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Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


cptn_dr posted:

Howdy howdy howdy I’m definitely the real cptn_dr and I am *IN* this week bring it on bitches

Also because I’ve been a HUGE SCAREDY about writing in sci fi if I don’t submit or submit a cop out this week I invite everyone to BRAWL MY QUIVERING rear end and beat the joy of writing into me

Yours sincerely,
Definitely the real captain Doctor cause I’d have to be a real loving dipshit to give my phone to certain SNEAKY FRIENDS




Toxx up and I’ll prompt ya.

Adbot
ADBOT LOVES YOU

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


cptn_dr posted:

Howdy howdy howdy I’m definitely the real cptn_dr and I am *IN* this week bring it on bitches

Also because I’ve been a HUGE SCAREDY about writing in sci fi if I don’t submit or submit a cop out this week I invite everyone to BRAWL MY QUIVERING rear end and beat the joy of writing into me

Yours sincerely,
Definitely the real captain Doctor cause I’d have to be a real loving dipshit to give my phone to certain SNEAKY FRIENDS




Captain Muffin Quivering rear end Brawl


Your story must include a scene where people converse while eating jello.

1500 words. Deadline is 31st Jan, 11:59 pm NZT.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Captain_Person posted:

Sure would be a shame if somebody kept you from writing terrible words by dragging you to several gigs this weekend, huh?

:toxx: for Captain vs. Captain, round two

sebmojo posted:

I want in on this bad boy bustup :toxx:

I have been informed by the archive gods that a four-way brawl is possible, so all you losers get to wrestle in jello.

Same prompt. Same deadline.

Jello must be eaten. Feed me this jello by the end of the month. Or feed it to yourselves. I don’t give a poo poo.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


What's that, an interruption to your regularly scheduled whining for a brawl judgment? K.

First, some crits.


SurreptitiousMuffin - Le Viandier
Incredible opening line. Jimmy is wonderfully, easily detestable. The sudden interjection of Discord and DMs is wonderfully absurd considering the bogan pastiche. Your descriptions are vividly grotesque. The plot is clear and nicely telegraphed from the get-go but that didn’t dull my appreciation or enjoyment of reading it.

My only real issue is that your POV character, Sarah, is just sort of… there. The focus of the piece is on her brother, and even after he dies, we don’t learn a lot about her. Her kitchen has a Michelin star, but even that only comes up in dialogue. She’s run around cleaning up after her brothers her whole life, but who is she when not being compared to them/others?

I liked everything about this except the blank slatey protag, which is of course a tough thing to combat in flash fiction. But you spend so much time dwelling on the detestable twins that we never really get to see anything about her or even why she needed to be the POV character.


Captain Person - Untitled
I’m very amused by how many goons appear to have written stories for this brawl where jelly is only eaten by detestable people. Your narrator is a bit of a blank slate and the voice gets a little rambly/casual, but I like the way you introduce Charlie and I like the incredibly visceral descriptions of his gross rear end bedroom/car garbage. The line about the Countdown is gold.

Overall this is more of a nice vignette than an actual story, but it’s a tasty vignette and I liked it. The last paragraph is great. I think in order for this to take the brawlcrown there would have needed to be a bit more overt conflict between the characters. As-is, everybody just feels like a kind of passive disaster of a person trapped in their own filth. Perhaps that’s what you were going for. Either way, not a bad effort!


Cptn_dr - Lockdown
Oof, instantly relatable. I do what your protag does all the time! Your formatting is a bit bunged fyi, good to double-check these things before posting. All right, I’ve hit the ⅓ or so mark and I’m worried that apart from cancelled flights not a whole lot seems to be happening. You’ve had the strongest and most sympathetic protag of the bunch thus far so I’m hoping things get interesting for him soon!

OHO, they’re in LOCKDOWN now! This is getting exciting! I do think the initial cancellation sequence went on a little long, but you’ve got me hooked now. And… oh, bro. BRO. REALLY? You switch straight to a timeskip rather than focusing on how these people react to being put in sudden lockdown? Shame. Shaaame.

This was my favourite story right up until you took the most interesting bit, timeskipped over it, and then introduced more people waiting in airport terminals. Bad cptn_dr! Bad! You do so many things well here that I’m just so disappointed. There were the beginnings of creeping dread, some chances to drop weird emotional payloads, and you just sort of skim over it. By the time the action picks up again I’m more invested, but the weirdness at the end isn’t quite enough to make up for your grievous, grievous middle-act sins.


Sebmojo - Memory and Desire
Love the imagery in the opening line. Solid start! Holy poo poo, the narrative voice here is hysterical. I love the line about discarding one’s manhood. I worry that you’re leaning too hard on the extremely Sebmojo habit of writing a lot of clever words that only manifest a plot at the ¾ mark, but I’m reserving judgment because I like these goofuses so far. The one-liners are landing. “That’s a big swear” lol.

Around the midway mark and not a whole lot has happened though I am enjoying it on the prose level. You do good dialogue. I don’t need to tell you this. And--

Oh. It ended. That’s it. It just ended. WELL. This was a fun read but it needed a bit of conflict to claim the win, I’m afraid. I don’t know how much effort I want to waste critting the ending of this because ffs you know you copped out.


:siren: :siren: QUIVERING rear end in a top hat FOUR-WAY JELLY BRAWL RESULTS :siren: :siren:
This was honestly pretty tough to call. I liked aspects of every story and I am extremely entertained that none of you thought that jelly was a food to be eaten under pleasant circumstances. What does this say about our culture?

Sebmojo, you definitely had the most entertaining characters. Muffin, yours had the most delightfully stomach-churning prose. Captain Person, your story triggered me in the unironic sense of the word--it captured the bizarre trapped feeling of being stuck in a house with a demented hoarder very well.

But in the end, despite the mid-story belly flop, it was Cptn_dr whose protagonist grabbed me. Please note that this was an absolute skin-of-your-teeth win because that mid-story belly flop WAS HUGE, but the fact that I was so passionate in my dislike of it means that I had strong feelings about the goodness of your story to begin with.

Cptn_dr wins!

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
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abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


In flash yes.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Smooth One, Ex-Lax
1500 words
Team: Jailbreakers
Flash: Your protagonist wants to hide the evidence.
Note: This story owes a heavy inspirational debt to Dave: by Sebmojo. It's not a quite an homage, but if you've read it, you'll know.


This isn’t the first time you’ve been caught with your pants down. This isn’t even the first time you’ve nearly been caught drinking on the job. But this is definitely the first time you’ve been caught with your pants down while drinking on the job while also having abandoned your position.

You had one job: sit in the office of Dylan’s Diamonds and stay there until morning, ensuring that nobody blows the doors open and steals all the jewelry. Which would be a completely insane thing to do, given Void Tower One’s security team’s penchant for rappelling in and engaging in disproportionate retaliation.

You’re Matthew Leslie, security guard at Dylan’s. You don’t rappel. Instead, you slink off into the toilets with your flask when you’re stressed. And your job isn’t even stressful. It’s your personal life that’s got you stressed—your girlfriend and your sponsor are up your rear end 24/7. You’re due for your two-year chip next week, and the pressure is immense.

You’re dozing there, half-consciously aware of how bad it is that the stress of sobriety milestones is what drove you to crack when your radio bzzzaps.

“Matt? Matt, are you there? Is everything all right?”

Oh. That’s Larissa. She’s the day-shift manager, opens up the shop in the mornings. Why the gently caress is she here at this hour? You rub your eyes, slap your tongue around the inside of your mouth, and clear your throat.

Your phone informs you that it is in fact seven o’clock.

You’re not sure when you ducked into the toilet.

You’re not sure how many hours you were asleep.

You didn’t even drink that much, it’s just the pressure and the anxiety and the night shift hours—you haven’t been sleeping great to begin with. Still, you had no idea you were exhausted enough that you’d—

“Matt?” She sounds sincerely worried.

You fumble the radio into your hands. You have to be smooth. This has to be the most convincing lie in the history of lies. You need to sound like you know exactly how much time you’ve been away from your desk and you need to sound like that interval was minutes, not hours.

“Oh,” you say. “Larissa, hey. Sorry, I was just in the bathroom.” You flush for good measure.

This was not a good choice, for Larissa responds with a pointed, “Ew.”

“Sorry,” you stammer, staggering out of the stall.

“I need you to buzz me in.” Larissa didn’t sound impatient before, but she does now. Your bathroom SFX have not helped your cause.

Blasting through the bathroom door, you hurry down the hall, barely paying attention as Larissa begins to prattle into the radio once again. Women always seem to think that if they talk more while a man’s working, it’ll somehow make him work faster.

“I’m headed right over,” you start, and then you actually hear her and your heart stops.

“—said they couldn’t reach you last night? They’re asking for a copy of the tapes…”

You do not respond to her. You do not speak at all. You do not even breathe. Your feet keep walking but your brain shuts off and your body sort of propels itself into the wall as you fail to navigate a corner.

The tapes will prove that you were not at your workstation for… however many hours you were not there.

“I can call maintenance to let me in,” Larissa starts to say.

Your brain boots back up. So do your lungs. Outside, in the world beyond Void Tower One, the planet continues its slow, inexorable turning. The sun burns one day closer to heat death. A child somewhere drops his ice cream on the sidewalk. That lonely whale with the messed up whale song inaudible to other whales dies a sad and lonely death, having never hosed.

Speaking of hosed, that’s what you are.

Your chest constricts. You try to think of something clever to say, but if you could think of clever things to say and do, you wouldn’t be working as a superfluous security guard in a tower with its own private paramilitary force.

You do the only thing that comes to mind.

You flip your radio around and slam the butt of it into the glass box mounted on the wall. You yank the big red switch labelled FIRE ALARM, EMERGENCY USE ONLY.

You are not going to lose that two-year chip.

You are not going to lose your job.

But when heavy, concussive impacts begin to reverberate down the hallway, you pause. Grinding, metallic mousetrap-snaps echo up and down the tower’s innards.

A neutrally-accented, genderless voice informs you that the lockdown sequence has been initiated. Thank you, valued resident.

You’ve pulled the fire alarm before. It never did that.

Your brain does not have the hard drive space for one more active catastrophe, so you just ignore all the slamming autodoors and the sound of the building cocooning itself in metal cladding. You run like hell.

You emerge outside Best Turkish Kebab and Curry, where Ertan is hollering into his phone. He cuts himself off when he spots you. His body goes slack with relief.

“Security’s here,” he says into the phone. Oh crap, he thinks you’re that security.

You open your mouth to correct him, then hesitate.

Wait.

You can use this.

Best Turkish is catty-corner to Dylan’s Diamonds. They share a wall. If you can get inside, you might be able to access the jewelry store from the inside, while Larissa is still locked out.

You could wipe the tapes. You could save your rear end.

You push a random button on your radio and speak with authority. “Leslie to control, commencing inspection of sector nine.”

Then, to Ertan, “Sir, I’m going to need to inspect your kitchen. We’re checking for a gas leak.”

“Oh!” The man skids back and away from the restaurant. “Goodness. Please.”

People are scared of the actual Void Tower Ops. You, you’re just some numpty in a jacket, but at least it has the magic word [b]SECURITY[b] emblazoned across the back.

You march into the kebab shop, pleased that in this one instance your brain hasn’t let you down. Larissa is squealing on the radio again, but you ignore her.

There’s got to be some back way in. All the shops in this block share water and power. Where does a plumber go when something’s broken? Think, think…

You crash and clatter around in the kitchen, uncaring of what you knock over. And that’s when you spot it: a slatted air vent in the ceiling. You leap up onto the countertop, pry the cover off, and try to wedge yourself in. Your head goes in. Your shoulders do not.

But it occurs to you: there are some inches you could lose. You shed your precious SECURITY jacket. Then, after a brief hesitation, so too goes the rest.

Soon, you are standing nude upon the counter, clambering up and in and… the edges of the duct jab stubbornly into your arms. It’s the friction that’s jamming you up now. If only you could…

Back on the countertop, you spy the roasting tray first. Then beside it, the big tub of ghee, glistening invitingly. You always wondered who the hell would serve kebabs and curry in the same restaurant. A genius you owe your life to, that's who.

And that’s how you find yourself nude and ghee-slickened, slithering along in the Void Tower air ducts. You’re so well-lubricated you have to shimmy your way along, flailing your feet to scoot your meat-grease slippery body through the ventilation system.

You catch the sound of Larissa’s voice floating through one of the vents, a narrower passage than the one you entered. You twist onto your side, inhale sharply, and push as hard as you can with your greasy feet.

You breach the passage like a gooey, forty-year-old baby being born in reverse. You’re in! But Christ it’s tight. When you exhale, you find it’s hard to breathe in again. You twist onto your belly and writhe toward Larissa. Toward freedom.

And then you twist too far, because your arm is pinned beneath your chest. You attempt to course-correct, to rotate back onto your side.

A warning creak sounds beneath you.

You can see light shining through the grate. It’s so close. One last push ought to do it.

The grate was not designed to hold a grown man’s weight. Even nude.

It disgorges you from the sky, raining your greasy naked body down into the office below. This is less like a birth and more like a wet, sloppy skydiving accident.

Larissa screams as you tumble onto both her and Jeremy from maintenance, who is there for some reason.

You collide with several sharp, squarish things. Your world is grease and pain. But when you finally breathe in, glass crunches with the movement. A broken computer monitor.

Maybe you destroyed the evidence after all.

You’re not sure how you’re going to explain the rest.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*



In and your flash is mountaineering.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Yoruichi posted:

In and I would like THREE flashrules

Friendship is literally magic.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


SlipUp posted:

Pirate battle!

yo I want two more flashes for myself, hit me peeps

Carnivorous plants.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
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storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Just Passing Through
2500 words


“They’re alive.” I stared at the sky past the silhouette of my boom mic. “They’ve got to be.”

Boots crunching up the grassy hill, my brother followed behind. “I dunno.”

Were it not for the heavy Zelmír Box in my other hand, I’d have turned around and socked him. Instead, I crested the hill up onto the cracked, neglected pavement of the Sky Harbor Airstrip. In the glow of our headlamps, it stretched out before us like a highway up to heaven. I couldn’t remember the year they decommissioned it. There were childhood memories buried in there somewhere, fuzzy-edged and indistinct, a recollection of light aircraft lifting and falling in regular circuits, their fuselages like snub-nosed metal bumblebees. Either I’d seen them or Dad had reminisced about them so often I’d convinced myself I had.

“You believe in ghosts,” I pressed Alec. “How can you believe in ghosts and still think the Accidentals aren’t alive?”

While I waited for his answer, I swept my Zelmír Box across the pavement. It had a long, cable-coiled body with a flat head like a metal detector, and I skimmed that over the ruined airstrip like I was searching for a lost wedding ring. In my other hand, I swiveled the boom, hoping to catch a whiff of any Accidentals if they chose to pass through while we were. I could hear them clearer if I put both cans of my headphones on, but for now, I wore them askew, only covering one ear. Alec didn’t talk much on these long trips out, so on the rare morning I caught him in a chatty mood, I wanted to listen. Even if all he wanted to do was debate his totally hypocritical views.

“Ghosts and Boltzmen are like… completely different concepts.” Alec’s words carried the faintest undercurrent of you moron. “Ghosts used to be alive. Boltzmen never were.”

“All the evidence of both looks and sounds really similar,” I pointed out. “EVP recordings and stuff.”

“I’m not saying Boltzmen aren’t real,” he countered. “Just that they’re not alive.”

I walked parallel to the airstrip, sweeping my detector. “I don’t like that word.”

“What word?”

“Boltzmen.”

When they were first theorized, Boltzmann Brains had been a topic of theoretical curiosity, nothing more, named for the man who dreamed them up. The early news reports had kept that name when showing off the first early, grainy recordings. But when Zelmír opened up the patents on his detection boxes and recorded instances skyrocketed, language did that thing it does when something rare becomes something common: it simplified and slang-ified. Boltzmen was an easy plural, but some were quick to point out that the suffix “men” implied a right to life that they didn’t have. Like the planes I might have seen, they’re consciousnesses that might have lived. I just found it too clinical.

Alec ignored me and turned to watch the first hints of dawn peek up over the distant, cloud-wreathed hills.

“Hard to believe we’ve only got a month left.” His voice was sadder than I expected.

We’d been hunting the Sky Harbor since we were little, since our first Zelmír detector, one of those big ones you used to have to carry in backpacks. Boltzmann brains were attracted to concrete, for some reason, drawn to it like scavengers to a whale fall. The airstrip was our own private little hunting ground, penned in by thick trees on either side, originally designed for noise control but now cleverly concealing our trespassing from prying eyes.

They were digging it up soon to build condos

“Don’t say that.” I couldn’t focus on detecting anymore. I pulled my headphones down around my neck. “Dr. Carcelli will be getting back to us soon. That’s part of why we’re even out here. We can stop all that.”

For the last five weary mornings, Alec and I had hiked out here with our Zelmír kits, painstakingly capturing hours of audio. I’d petitioned Dr. Marcus Carcelli at UW: come out here, study the Accidentals, do that thing they did down in Eugene with the snails.

Down in Oregon, there was a subdivision outside Eugene they couldn’t build on account of snails, you see. The locals had banded together, handed in a petition thick with signatures, proclaiming the land was the habitat of a particular endangered snail. Did they want to push the goopy little guys even closer to extinction?

All I needed was some expert, any expert, to believe the Accidentals were alive.

“It’s wrong,” I said to Alec’s back. “We can’t let it happen.”

“You’re right.” He rubbed tiredly beneath his eyes. “It feels like digging up a graveyard.”

I guess we thought it was wrong for different reasons.

###

I dozed off on the drive home, and when we pulled into the driveway of Mom and Dad’s place, I awoke to the sound of Alec cutting the engine.

“I can’t keep doing this every morning,” he said. “I’ve got…”

“A job. I know.” Technically I did too, I just slept through it a lot. And when college was back that fall, I’d sleep through the early hours of that, too.

I peeked at my phone to check the time, and when I saw my notifications my heart all but stopped.

There was an email waiting from Marcus Carcelli. I opened, my gums going dry.

Micaela,
I want to thank you again for your well-thought-out proposal and your kind words on my consciousness research. Unfortunately, at this time the scientific consensus is that Boltzmann brains are not alive in any sense of our understanding of the word. There’s just no funding for it. I hope to see you back in September. I’ve got some books on the subject you’ll likely enjoy.


Alec startled at the sound of my phone impacting the window. I left it there on the passenger’s side floor, not even looking to see if the screen had shattered.

###

Once I’d cooled down, I reviewed our records from that morning, trying to crowd Carcelli’s thoughts out of my head. I downloaded the raws off my Zelmír box and scrolled through, patiently, until finally I heard the telltale buzz. We’d caught one. It was a little one, just a hummer, they called them. A simple, tuneless series of discordant hums creeping through the ambient audio. Five notes repeated twice.

In the early days of Boltzmen-hunting online, we’d felt like we were performing séance as much as science. There was some strange mysticism to it, the art of capturing fleeting, spontaneously-generated consciousnesses. They could make sounds. They could speak human languages—some of the bigger ones seemed to speak dozens. They rattled and chattered and mostly just made gibberish, but sometimes the strings of words they exhaled had an odd kind of poetry.

That morning, Alec and I had captured one that simply murmured six roses six roses six roses in a low, agender voice before it fizzed away to nothing.

Someone knocked softly on my door. Probably my mother. Dad’s knocks were always more stern. I ignored her, capturing and cataloguing each of the voices that Alec and I had stepped through in our exploration at Sky Harbor. We’d found eight, all told. Eight consciousnesses that existed and then ceased to exist, either drawn to or generated by the deep, heavy concrete of the airstrip.

I opened up my email client and started typing a message, attaching all the audio recordings one by one. I’d point out to Carcelli that if we could hear the audio, there must be something more. If these brains could speak language, we couldn’t write them off as dead. Or… as having never lived.

It’s like the spiders, I typed. You showed me the study on those jumping spiders. The ones that can track their prey even when it moves out of their line of sight. They have so few neurons. Their brains shouldn’t be capable of it. For years, we thought fish couldn’t feel pain because their brains are not complex enough. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean

I buried my face in my hands. My thoughts weren’t coming out clearly. And I could already hear Dr. Carcelli’s rebuttals in my head: people argued that spiders weren’t conscious, not that they weren’t alive in the first place.

When the second knock came at my door, I could tell it was Alec. I let him in. He found me slumped at my desk, glowering at my monitor, no closer to debating Carcelli onto my side than I’d been before.

“Hey.” His big, warm hand settled on my shoulder. He squeezed. “I get it, you know.”

“Like hell.” I shrugged his hand off me. “You stopped coming with me for years. You only came back because they’re tearing up the airstrip. Like you said, you’ve got a job. And a wife.

“Yeah, well.” He took a step back. “That is what happens when people get to be thirty. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”

“So you understand, but you don’t give enough of a poo poo to help me?”

He stepped around the side of my computer chair so I could look him in the face. Since getting back from our hunt, he’d showered, combed his blond hair over to one side. He looked tired. And now that I was yelling at him, kind of annoyed.

“I’ve been getting up at three in the morning to help you all week.” His face twitched like he was trying not to scowl. “I don’t know what else you want from me.”

“Talk to people! Talk to your work! You’re a lawyer, for gently caress’s sa—”

“I’m not that kind of lawyer.”

I folded my arms across my chest, sinking into the glower of a person who knows they’ve lost an argument but can’t stop beating against the wall regardless. I just needed to get it out. Needed to purge it from my system.

“I bet you know some of that kind. The kind who could talk to the Council, who have influential friends.”

To my surprise, Alec sighed quietly, backing off. “Maybe.” Something in his face changed a little. “Look, I’ll see who I can talk to. Just… I think you need to understand, nobody’s saying the Boltzmen aren’t important. But holding back progress for them when nobody can prove they feel pain or exist for longer than a few fleeting seconds is… hard.”

“gently caress progress.” I shot up out of my chair, hiked up my hood, and trudged over to my bed. “Guess it won’t be the first time they tear down something beautiful to put up more loving condos.”

I threw myself into bed, rolling onto my side, and showed Alec my back. I knew he probably didn’t deserve the next few words, but the thing about anger is that it has momentum.

“I get it,” I snarled. “You used to be real. You used to get it. Now you’re the guy who lives in the condos. So now it’s holding back progress.

I heard the door latch quietly as he exited, refusing to rise to my bait.

###

My phone pinged a few times, but I was determined to sleep all afternoon. A week of early, early starts made that easier than anticipated. The day passed in a haze of frustration. I dreamed on and off of fat-bellied planes taking off and landing and taking off and landing.

###

Finally, I couldn’t ignore it. My phone was chiming again, this time the persistent trio of notes that informed me it was about to die. The Accidentals made those little chimes sound much prettier.

Wait… my phone. It occurred to me embarrassingly late that I’d left it in the car. Alec must have brought it up for me. And then I’d all but exorcised him from the room in my anger. My cheeks pinkened a little as I heaved up out of bed, searching for where he’d put it.

He’d left it on my bedside table. A fine spiderweb of cracks now crept across the screen.

But through the cracks, I saw that there were new messages waiting. Several, in fact. A few of my Accidental-hunting friends had all linked me to the same website: a petition about the upcoming condominiums at Riverwalk Estates.

Whatever it was, it was gaining traction. All the big Facebook groups were discussing it, and people on my Twitter feed kept tagging The Stranger, begging them to dig into it further.

Annoyed with the cracks on my phone, I slid into my computer chair and opened it up on the big monitor.

RIVERWALK ESTATES: HAUNTED? DEMAND THE CITY COUNCIL INVESTIGATE THE VOICES RECORDED AT SKY HARBOR AIRSTRIP.

A local lawyer by the name of Alec Cass had launched the petition on behalf of himself and a half-dozen prospective buyers at Riverwalk Estates, expressing concern that the site of their proposed homes was subject to unexplained phenomenon. The coalition of would-be residents were demanding a thorough study be concluded on the grounds, pointing out that as the airstrip was laid down in the forties, chances were that the government of the time hadn’t put any thought into an archaeological survey beforehand.

If it isn’t ghosts, it’s these things they call Boltzmen, the petition read. Unexplained floating brains attracted to concrete? I don’t know about you, but all these condos will need driveways. The neighborhood will need roads. I can’t move my family in here until I know it’s safe. I don’t want to wake up to a floating brain in my bedroom at night! I’m calling on the Council and Riverwalk Developers to do what’s right and investigate this place, to ensure it’s safe for people moving in.

I watched in real time as the ticker of signatures up at the top grew to a few dozen. Then over a hundred. Accidental-hunters caught on in a hurry. And the general public, well, they’re full of nutters like my brother who purport to believe in ghosts.

This time, I called Carcelli and left a voicemail on his office line.

“Dr Carcelli.” I felt more sure of my words. “You’ve probably seen the petition going around. Look, it’s got me thinking. What if we’re going about this the wrong way? You remember that study you showed me, with the spiders? Where somehow, despite their eyes and brains not being complex enough to do so, jumping spiders remember where their prey is? You were theorizing they had a distributed network of neurons in their legs. That someday, we’d understand why they can ‘think’ things that should be too complex for them to grasp. Maybe I’m wrong about the Accidentals being conscious. But maybe we can run a study like that ourselves, just to show these idiots they aren’t ghosts.”

Maybe there’d be funding in that.

It was harder with Alec. The words didn’t come so easy. I settled on a simple, single-word thanks. Then, because that seemed way too sappy, I added a minute later: for bringing me my phone.


Cool stuff: Whale fall, Boltzmann brains, experimental aircraft.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

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THUNDERDOME WEEK 408 - WELCOME TO THE BONE ZONE

The adult human body has a nice, evenly-distributed 206 bones. Some critters have more. Some have less. Children have a strange and indeterminate amount. Oh, to be a child and have an ever-changing, mercurial bone count.

Your prompt this week is bones. Specifically, everyone who signs up will be assigned a bone or type of bone. Your bone need not be human. It need not be the only bone. Go hog wild with the bones. I will be inclined to favour stories that make creative, prominent use of their bones. However, there is one special rule this week, and that is the bones in your story cannot be reanimated skeletons because frankly that is too easy and I expect more of you all. I don't want to read 15 stories about skeletons walking around doing dumb poo poo. Find more interesting ways to make your bones sing.

You will have 1222 words to tell me your bone story, but if you ask for a flash rule, you can have 1500. Your flash rule will be a secret Bone Fact or piece of Bone Lore and you can interpret it however you like.

Sign-ups are due 11:59pm PST on Friday, 29th May. Stories are due 11:59pm PST on Sunday, 31st May.

BONERS OF THE WEEK:
Antivehicular
Something Else
Thranguy
Ironic Twist

JUDGES
Anomalous Boneout
Sebonejo

Anomalous Blowout fucked around with this message at 04:30 on May 27, 2020

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

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Your bone is the mandible. Your bone fact is: Some cultures find it immensely disrespectful if you DON'T wear the bones of your ancestors.


Something Else posted:

I’m in and I NEED a Secret Bone Lore flash

Your bone is the floating rib. Your bone fact is: Babies begin life with over 300 bones, which then slowly fuse into the regular 206 adult humans have. Little else is known about what else babies lose as they age.


Thranguy posted:

In and flash.
Your bone is the pelvis. Your bone fact is: Bones vibrate at a frequency that is all their own.


Your bone is a wishbone.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

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SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

in, gimme dat bone secret

Your bone is the patella.

Your bone fact: Be careful. If someone catches a glimpse of your bones, even for medically necessary reasons, they have a certain power over you.


flerp posted:

in :toxx: flash

Your bone is a single vertebra.

Your bone fact: It is possible to transplant the bones of the dead into the bones of the living, but there are often consequences.



Your bones are hollow bird bones.


crimea posted:

In Flash.

Your bone is an entire skull.

Your bone fact: It is said that the bones of the cat weigh nothing. That's how they can catch birds.


QuoProQuid posted:

in and flash

Your bones are knucklebones.

Your bone fact: Every bone in the body has its own name in a language we don't speak.


a friendly penguin posted:

In and flash.

When I told my SO about this week's theme he said, "That should be humerus." This is the help I get.

Your bone is the sternum.

Your bone lore: Drink your milk if you want strong bones. But whatever you do, don't drink too much. You won't like what that does to them.


NAGA LIU KANG posted:

I'm IN

Give me a bone please.

Your bone is the femur.


Saucy_Rodent posted:

In 'er like a sinner, wearin my flash like a sash

Your bone is the coccyx.

Your bone lore: When you break a bone, sometimes the things in your marrow can sneak out.


Barnaby Profane posted:

In, throw me a bone.

Your bone is an entire ribcage.


Salgal80 posted:

I’m back and in.

Your bone is a broken bone, any kind of broken bone.


kiyoshimon posted:

I'd like to try, I'm in.

Your bones are the phalanges of the toes.



I only gave flashes to folks who specifically asked for them, so if any new folks wanted a flash rule, post again to confirm that.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


I'm out on a walk right now so if anyone wants to sign up late you've got until whenever I get back to my house.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

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Sign-ups are closed! I'll grab you two some flashes after dindin.

Moon, your bone is a scapula.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

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kiyoshimon posted:

sure I'll take a flash


Ground-up bones may not have the medicinal properties people hoped they would, but they have certain other properties that are less easily understood.


take the moon posted:

ill sign up and ask 4 a flash

no way my last run here is a loss/dm streak

Sometimes the bones of the bear wake up from hibernation before the rest of the bear does.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Annnnd closed.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Well when I said "boners of the week" in sign-ups, I wasn't anticipating things to be as bad as they got, but boy, this week dredged up a truly staggering four DMs in addition to the loss.

The reason I explicitly banned magical reanimated skeletons is because I worried not doing so would result in a lot of samey stories, but it turns out there was a lot of sameyness regardless. Some of you really leaned into your flash rules in ways that I appreciate, and I'll go into that in more detail in my crits.

First interred into the DM crypt is take the moon, who wrote a story that had more proper nouns than coherent thoughts. I'm not opposed to stories that crawl up their own asses, but there's got to be something relatable in there. Next up is a friendly penguin, who wrote an entire story from the POV of a bird that just sort of narrates its own backstory. Crimea also scored a DM with a story that felt like a sequence of events happening around but not to its protagonist, who just stood there like an anatomical model. Salgal80 is also off to the DM crematorium for similar reasons to Crimea--a story about a protagonist who supposedly yearns to be free but mostly just passively stands there until we discover she's been yearning for freedom in the very last paragraph.

The worst of the worst though, was Saucy_Rodent, though not by a terribly wide margin. Your story was simply a hairsbreadth worse than the rest, many of which were pretty bad. Enjoy your new avatar, roll up your sleeves, and try again.

Most stories that didn't DM this week were all still sort of middlingly bad for reasons we get very in-depth into in our various crits. I won't veer down that path now for that way lies sadness. The squishy soggy middle-of-the-pack stories were so indistinguishable in quality that this week we will be awarding no HMs.

The only story that immediately stood out to all three of us as top tier stood out to me not only because it fully embraced its absurd premise, it managed to balance absurd comedy with a sneaky, slithering menace in a way that, to me, embodied the spirit of Bone Week. And that was our bone buddy Something Else, who appears to be on a bit of a winning streak!

:siren: :siren: :siren: And as a SPECIAL GIFT to you all, facilitated by our recording wizard Sebmojo and the knife's-edge wit of co-judge Yoruichi, we present: 80 minutes of live-critting whereupon we dissect every single one of your boneheaded endeavours. Inside you will find: specific advice! Bad bone puns! Lots of talk about asses! And hopefully some good writing advice. Marvel as we come to our consensus live on air! Listen to us discuss what it truly means to embody the essence of being a loser!

Please enjoy this special gift, Bonerdome.


Something Else, your nonstop parade of angel murder and your cheery demon protagonist have secured you a spot upon the bone throne. Rise up and prompt us.

Anomalous Blowout fucked around with this message at 11:17 on Jun 1, 2020

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

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In and please flash me.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Written crits for last week. Pardon the complete lack of formatting, Awful App ate it twice and I'm a tired baby who ain't gonna input all that poo poo again.

*

Salgal80 - Choosing a Path
Intriguing opening paragraph, if a little vague. You’ve got me. Let’s go. “Searching for an exit” is a legit creepy line, this is setting a good tone so far. I’m a sucker for trippy visions even if these are a little bit cliche. In the middle bits the sentence structure gets a little “I am doing/feeling a thing, another thing happens, I observe another thing” which gets redundant, good thing to watch for. The paragraph about the extra rib could really be punchier--I want to know your protag’s thoughts on discovering she has an extra friggin’ bone!

The passive voice to open the second scene is detracting from the immediacy of the stuff that’s happening to your protag I’m afraid. Who attached the wings and claws? Make them the subjects, describe the actions of the people who are doing this stuff to her.

The grammar is unravelling a little bit toward the end, a few visible typos, be careful to proofread before you post.

You rely on the word “send” a lot and it is almost always a very weak verb that could be replaced by something that more actively reflects what the sentence’s subject is actually doing.

The imagery in this piece isn’t bad, but your protag lacks desire and direction. This feels like a series of things happening to them which they passively endure. If you want this story to be a struggle about freedom, you need to mention that the character wants to be free early on. Have them take some steps toward freedom and fail. Then it will be all the sweeter when they finally succeed.


Take the moon - thaw // bookends
Really strong opening, love the imagery and the sense of wonder it’s evoking so far. Gets a little heavy-handed with the proper nouns but overall the voice is strong and I like the combativeness of it. Reading further on, the second section is also nice but starts to get a little overwhelming with the Proper Noun Things that don’t seem to relate much to story things. Still, this feels like a solid skeleton (sorry) that could stick its landing. Let’s see…

The middle bit is starting to lose me. Too many introduced themes and concepts and it isn’t really tied together in any coherent way. The prose is still decent and some really good imagery here and there but you’re running out of space to tell a story where these threads all weave together. The briar and nettle paragraph is pretty purple.

The ending had a bit more action and characters making choices and doing things, but unfortunately the beginning didn’t adequately tie these avatars of the seasons to any actual narrative or plot so it feels a little haphazard.



Saucy_Rodent - rear end GHOST!
Some bits here that have given me a chuckle, but about ⅓ of the way in it feels like it’s trying too hard to be clever. Needs a proofread. The urge to skim was pretty powerful by the end. I’ve seen you do zany comedy well, Mr. Sauce, but this was not one of those times. This felt like a series of references strung together, not even really jokes. There’s a maxim about TV writing that says in a well-written script, you should theoretically be able to pick a line at random and someone who is familiar with the characters can tell you who is speaking. There are a lot of characters in this and they all have the same voice.


Crimea - One Body
I like this opening, you paint a good picture of your protag. They say opening a story with someone looking in a mirror is almost universally a bad idea, but in this case with the palsy it feels like something a newly-palsied person would do a lot, exploring how their face has changed. The line “he didn’t realise he was on the verge of discovering the consciousness of bones” promises us something p cool even if it’s a little on the nose.

The convo with Cat felt a little bland, hope to find out there was some subtext there that becomes relevant later. Liked that line about the cracked egg.

Nitpick alert - Anderson is not “seemingly” waiting in the elevator to see if anything will happen. He’s doing exactly that. It’s easy to fall into using seem or seemingly as a crutch, but stop and ask yourself if it’s really an appropriate word for the sentence and image you’re trying to convey. Since this scene is from Anderson’s POV, we know exactly what he’s doing, there’s no seemignly about it.

This takes a veer toward the passive once we switch to the camera POV, and while that makes a certain sense, it removes the reader from the action and lessens the impact.

This is another story where stuff just kinda happens to the protag. We learn in the background that he’s been doing stuff but he doesn’t really make a lot of active choices, nor do we get to find out how he feels about the fate that befalls him.


Sparksbloom - A Present
Nice opening line. I’m intrigued. You have a nice way with painting a detailed picture despite not slathering the scene with details. Good prose. This has a nice gothic vibe and I can feel the walls of the story closing in as each scene progresses.

Oho, I like the protag spitefully acting out against the cat. This is good. The dialogue between the sisters feels very real for a strained sibling relationship.

The ending does just kind of… fizzle, though. It’s a nice image to end on, but I wish there was more callback to something earlier in the piece, more consequence for your protag’s choice with cracking the skull. Nothing wrong with a happy ending, but this one felt like there was little tension leading up to it.


Something Else - The War for Your Soul
This is a playful take on a baby-haunted-by-demons story and I’m liking it from the get-go. The voice is nice, if a little Good Omensy, Your demon character is very likeable. My only worry is that we’re opening with a LOT of infodumping even if it’s pleasant infodumping and I hope you don’t run out of wordcount to cram a story in here.

Ah, here’s the story! Love the bowler hat line. Loved “I’ll explain it when you’re older.” There are a dozen great little lines in this and I can tell you spent some time crafting the prose on a sentence level. You describe the action scenes concisely and they’re always entertaining, even if the tap shoes bit veered a little into too-clever territory.

The moment where the demon slithers in feels very earned and is cool as hell.

Really enjoyed this one from start to finish.


A friendly penguin - Bone Tree
I like the folktale vibe of this even if the initial formatting and lack of set dressing made it a bit tough to immediately immerse myself in. Good creepy lore here with the bone tree. The prose gets a little lazy in parts and the voice feels sometimes like it’s trying a little too hard to be folksy, but it’s overall an interesting read that’s compelling me forward toward the end.

Overall, I feel like this story was an almost-just-not-quite. The crow works, but your chosen human is very bland and their dialogue isn’t particularly interesting. It all feels like generic comic book placeholder “exclamation!” type dialogue rather than what a real person might say. Still, with a bit of polish this is the sort of flash I could see a magazine buying if you were into that. It tells a complete story end to end and your protag is clever and it’s delightfully weird, but it’s dragged down into only-slightly-above-average by the flat human character and the abrupt beginning.


Flerp - Little Piece
Some decent images opening this one up as well as a protag who’s got a likeable voice. I find the father’s thoughts on mortality very relatable. As the story progresses, I enjoy this crackpot dad! Still, we’re getting decently far into the piece without a ton happening. The dad has died, but the son isn’t really doing much about it. He’s mused about the dad’s thoughts on death a few different ways but it isn’t treading any new ground.

Nitpick time - not sure how bones can “crumple together like ashes.” Bones are pretty solid and brittle don’t crumple, they just sorta snap.

The ending isn’t bad, a little trite. You handle the pain of loss well as well as the way the human mind grasps at what-ifs in the face of tragedy. Ultimately this ending doesn’t knock it out of the park, but it’s perfectly serviceable and it has as few nice lines. I can tell you spent time on it.


Antivehicular - Old Things Unearthed
I love how much you convey with so little sentences here - the relationship between the sisters, the nature of the protag in contrast to her sibling, the desolation of a small Alaskan coroner’s waiting room. By the end of the second paragraph we’ve got some great character and great worldbuilding. This is off to a fun start!

As the story progresses, I’m just immersing myself in it like a warm bath on a cool day. This is good writing, concise and informative but still pretty when it needs to be. There’s a forlorn core to the story that I feel like you’re chipping away at and slowly revealing.

Man, oof, this is one of those stories that just gets to The Truth Of The Thing. I was an angry stepkid once and I did a lot of things I regret and it’s very true how that stuff sticks with you as an adult even as you know you were young and shouldn’t be held fully responsible for the decisions made by your imperfectly formed prefrontal cortex.

The macabre jewelry chatter at the end is a perfect note for this and the reconciliation doesn’t feel forced. I really enjoyed this story and I think it’s one of yours - like the one about the dead guy’s ghost haunting the tractor - that I’ll think about for a while.

Ultimately if I was going to HM any story this week, it would have been this one. However, I think my inclination to HM it is based solely on how bad everyone else’s was, since there were enough nitpicks with this one that it wouldn’t have stood out in a stronger week. Still, it says a lot of nice things and I am glad you wrote it and that counts for something.


Thranguy - Never Would Again
Hahahah oh my god, this rules. Vivid scene-setting with few words, a lot said with a little prose, and who can resist a guitar pick carved from Elvis’ pelvis. This is a short and sweet little tale that only sets out to do one thing but does it really well. I think perhaps the transition from bone-vibrating cosmic Elvis bone rave to “concert’s up and everybody went home” was perhaps a bit abrupt but otherwise this was a solid vignette. However, I don’t think it was quite a story. It’s the negative space left by a story as it walks through the room. As I say in the audio critique, it’s the wake left behind in a story’s passing.

If fleshed out a bit more, I think this idea would have worked well and would have been an HM candidate. Unfortunately, it was just a little too sparse. We don’t learn enough about who these people are and how their narratives are connected for this to feel like anything other than a collection of nice, well-described images that ultimately only relate to each other a little and just sorta pass on by without leaving a lasting impression. Still, I like the idea, and if you did develop this into something longer or a little more solidly sketched-out, I think the premise is solid. Your prose as always is groovy.


Barnaby Profane - They Don’t Play Honky Tonk in Harkus Bend
You set an immediate scene with a few words here - Badlands, mentions of crumbling aristocracy - and your protag has a unique voice. By the second paragraph I’m quite invested in palaeontology granny and I want to see where her adventures take her.

Really enjoying your worldbuilding as we move into the middle bits. This feels like a golden age of sci-fi tale with a hint of Borderlands. The ending comes on kind of abruptly, and I was curious that a reason for the framing device wasn’t ever revealed. We never learn anything about the person telling this story, not sure if that adds or detracts from it really. The last line is very charming and lessens the blow of the abrupt ending though. Overall a solid piece in a week that was overall very weak. It stood out, for all its flaws.

Upon a second reading, I do think the beginning of this piece sets up the end for failure. You start out with the narrator explicitly telling the reader they aren’t what we think they are, but then you never really explain what we think they are or why they are actually something different or why that even matters. If you’d stuck to the old lady and her how-I-met-your-grandaddy story I would have rated this much higher. As it is, you promise something in the beginning that you never deliver on, and in the future I’d watch out for that, either ensuring that the story you establish in the beginning is the same as you end on, or just remove those bits with a thorough edit. ;)


Kiyoshimon - The Tale of Stepping Tiger
There are a couple bits in this beginning that hint that it’s some sort of xianxia. A couple bits more to anchor us to the setting would have been helpful, but that’s what we get so that’s what is poppin’ into my head. The prose is adequate if not especially punchy. I wish the protag had a bit more character. She’s fairly generic throughout the whole thing, and this is another story where a sequence of stuff just kinda seems to happen to her without her driving much if any of the action or doing much other than exactly what could be expected of her.

This reminds me a lot of many many Chinese light novels I’ve read over the years, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It does however mean that if you’re going to lean on so many genre cliches, you’d better do it in an interesting way or at least in a way that delivers something solid if not totally new.

I like the dichotomy of broken-boned bound feet vs. stomps that shatter the very earth’s crust--there is a powerful image and a good story nugget in that. Unfortunately, it shows up at the 90% mark rather than the 10% mark, so rather than seeing your protag explore her power and explore the imagery of tearing apart the world that’s oppressed her with the very feet her captors broke to hobble her, we instead are left with a feeling of what might have been.

I do like the way you subverted the trope of the meeting of the king. I was wincing that he’d turn out to be an evil fat rapist because that’s a very common trope in these kinds of stories, but you pleasantly surprised me and the way you just breeze by their meeting feels very true to real life.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

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:siren: :siren: :siren: FABULOUS PRIZE FOR BAD WRITERS ALERT

Good afternoon, Thunderdome. A cool contest prize has fallen into my pocket, and given the state of the world, I'd rather put it to use than use it myself.

I have up for grabs a full short story critique from bestselling writer, Tiptree scholar, PKD award winner, yada yada yada Meg Elison. If you don't know Meg...

quote:

Meg Elison is a California Bay Area author and essayist. She writes science fiction and horror, as well as feminist essays and cultural criticism. Her work has been on the Otherwise (formerly Tiptree) longlist, nominated for the Audie Award, and won the Philip K. Dick Award. She has also been published in McSweeney’s, Shimmer, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Catapult, Terraform, and many other places.

I believe this covers a story of up to 6,000 words. Meg is an incredible editor and if you have a piece you've been tinkering and thinking about shopping to magazines, this is a good chance to get some very talented eyes on it before you start submitting it around.

Rather than simply giving this away as a prize to a winner of a TD round, I am raffling this prize off for donations to The Loveland Foundation, which is providing 8 free therapy sessions to Black women and girls in the US.

The rules are simple:
Everyone who donates $10 or more is in the draw. If you want to donate more, this is awesome. If you want to, you can donate on behalf of a goon who may not be able to afford it (or just a buddy you like!) to nominate them for the prize, and that is also cool. On the form, fill out 'Team Thunderdome' as your team so we can track totals.

PM, email, or Discord PM me screenshots of your receipts. Email is atlacoya+sa at gmail dot com.

Closes a week from today. This post authorised by all the necessary blood royals.

Anomalous Blowout fucked around with this message at 01:17 on Jun 5, 2020

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
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It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

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The Shortest Distance Between Two Points
1777 words
Prompt: Teamwork, sled dogs


Duncan often showed up on my doorstep when he had nothing better to do. Since he was on a scrubber's pension and not burdened by employment, that was "all the time." I heard the familiar double-honk of his VW outside, then peeked under the curtain. I heaved the window open, already preparing to tell him sorry man, not today but then I saw the weird assortment of duffel bags strapped to the roof of his van and hesitated.

And then he saw me. A wide, kid-on-Christmas-morning grin cracked across his face.

"Come on, man!" He waved excitedly up toward me. "Going for a drive tonight! You're not gonna miss this one!"

I looked back over my shoulder, where an empty apartment and a lone humming computer terminal were all that beckoned me to stay. I'd been planning on claiming another shift on the feeds that evening, since lord knew I wouldn't be sleeping anyhow. But Dunc's bizarre pile of junk and the mischief in his voice were enough to tempt me away.

Duncan embraced me so quick I had to pry him off to lock the door.

"You won't regret this," he said, clapping me on the back as he finally relinquished his hold.

"I never do."

He pulled a wounded face. "If that's the case, why don't you come out more often?"

Some of us have to work, I almost said. But I caught the words in time. It was true, I had to work and he didn't. But Dunc didn't have to work because he'd donated a year of his life to the cleanup efforts. A year of hard labour with only a rubber suit between himself and whatever glowing sludge the sea spat up. Who knew how many kinds of cancer were duking it out in his guts now, how much time he had left to spend that pension. Dunc being Dunc, he thought it was a great deal.

"Don't worry," he said, eyes narrow mischievous slits. "I know you've been busy. Now get the gently caress in!"

We piled into the VW, which rattled off down my street toward Cabrillo highway. I hand-cranked the window, watching the view. The tiered stilt houses, the old mission revival church with its red-tiled tower--the piled-up pieces of the promenade were still there, though you had to have seen the pictures to know what fit into what. The whole promenade looked like a jigsaw puzzle someone had unboxed and tipped out onto the beach.

"Man," said Dunc. "Don't look at that poo poo."

We drove parallel to the highway until we came upon a gated development, and I knew then that this was another one of Dunc's grand attempts at getting the band back together, another thing he did from time to time with his surplus of free time. There was no way Akim was going to tag along, though. His daughter was, what, eighteen months old?

But before I could open my big mouth, I spotted a figure in a brightly-striped windbreaker slipping through the gate. Akim waved, tossed his pack through the window, and climbed into the backseat.

"Dude," I said. "Did not expect you'd be able to get free."

Akim smiled in a cautiously subdued way, fishing a hand into his pocket. He offered Dunc and I a pack of gum, folding a stick into his own mouth. "I don't like leaving Nic alone with her mama too long," he said. Even if you didn't agree with the gated communities, with the special dispensations handed to families who could still bear children, you couldn't deny that raising one was about the most important work one could do. The birth rate alone was apocalyptic, and that's not even counting all the ones that didn't come out completely healthy. I rubbed my chest, ashamed of the weird, awkward pang I felt there whenever I thought too hard about kids.

"It's a special occasion," Dunc said. And then, to me, he finally explained: "Sean's back."

I blinked hard. The world tipped sideways out from under me. My guts fell out of my body and plummeted through the bottom of the van and straight into the earth's crust. I had to have misheard him.

"You what?" I asked, certain I'd mistaken the words.

That sly smile crept back up Dunc's mouth. "You heard me. Our prodigy son returns."

My head was still spinning so bad I didn't even correct him. Sean was back.

###

It’s funny, the people you end up sticking with. I couldn’t tell you the last time I spoke to someone from high school, but the five of us from the Santa Cruz Middle School Surf Club were inseparable. It had been me, Dunc, Akim, Sean, and Louie against the waves—and the world—since pretty much the day we met.

Then the rift opened up in the sea and everything changed. Akim and I got recruited into the drone fleet, helping with cleanup. Dunc and Louie joined up with the scrubbers, trying to disperse their fleets of nanobots into the ocean quicker than the rift could poison it.

Only Dunc came back.

And Sean, after Louie died, he just… disappeared. I got a postcard from him years later, postmarked from Anchorage. No one had seen him since.

Duncan wheeled us out of town and up onto the onramp. Within a few miles, the smooth, freshly-paved highway turned to poo poo, cracked and neglected and weed-riddled as we passed out of the city limits.

We passed by the tangled, overgrown jungle of the former state park. The sun was sinking lower, and I could spy little outcroppings of light within the growth. Who knew who lived in there now.

Duncan turned off the highway and onto a dusty, unpaved access road. A trio of skinny, scruffy dogs scattered as he nosed the Volkswagen westward toward the sea. I wanted to ask him if it was okay, getting this close to the water. We hadn’t talked about it much, just sort of danced around the trauma the way guys our age do, but I know whatever he’d seen down there, whatever had happened to Louie, it had hurt.

But when we emerged from the trees onto a boat ramp of all things, I knew Dunc had thought this through.

And there, standing on the jetty, was Sean. His hair and beard were out of control now and he wore a beanie down low over his brow. He looked like some real bush Alaska poo poo, face full of harder angles than it had been when he left. But he smiled when he saw us, and when we piled out of the van, he and Dunc wrapped each other up in a hug that lasted so long I honestly felt a little left out.

Then they started unpacking the poo poo strapped to the roof and something clicked in my head: the boat ramp, the mysterious junk, Sean’s reappearance.

“We’re going out on the water?”

From one of the rooftop bags, Dunc unpacked a tightly-bound bundle of vinyl and straps. It still had the scrubber corps logo stenciled on, though it was faded with years of sun and use.

“You stole a lifeboat?”

Dunc slung an arm around my shoulders and squeezed.

“So many questions,” he said. “How about you just live in the moment a little and help me unpack.”

I couldn’t argue with that. I unpacked. Akim hauled a compressor out of the back of the van and hooked it to the raft, beginning to inflate it.

“So how was Alaska?” I asked Sean while we worked.

“Pretty. Deserted. Colder than a witch’s tit.” He grinned through his beard.

“What did you even do up there?”

“Trained sled dogs.”

I squinted at him. “Bullshit.”

“It’s true!” Dunc said at my back. “I’ve seen the pictures!”

Unpacking our kit, working in concert to heft the zodiac raft out into the shallows, fitting the outboard and the paddles and all the little bits and pieces into place, it felt for a moment like nothing had changed. There was a tangible gap, an emptiness to my side where Louie would have been, but also that rising excitement, the way I felt when I carried my first boogie board out to the waves, when the sea was unchanged and new friends were waiting.

By the time we were ready to shove off, it was dark. I expected us to hesitate more, to consider what we were doing. The water was clean, so the reports all said, but it wasn’t the same Pacific we grew up with.

But, oddly, we didn’t. There was no moment of ceremony. No words, but no silent hesitations either. Dunc just beckoned for us to get in, then locked up the van and waded out to meet us. He hopped in, opting to use the oars over the outboard for now.

“Why the manual transmission, chief?” I knocked him on the forearm as he rowed.

“You’ll see,” he said. “You’ll see in a bit. The motor disrupts ‘em too much.”

With all that had bubbled up out of the ocean when that rift had opened in the seabed, those words gave me pause. But they didn’t quite strike the bone-deep terror they might have, simply on account of Dunc’s tone. That same mischief, that wait-and-see promise.

It took a few minutes, but soon the reason for our slow rowing became apparent: a blue trail began to bloom behind us. As the raft passed through the water, the crests of the little rolling waves began to glow where we’d touched them. First the light was distinct little motes, then it blossomed into a serpentine river of phosphorescent blue.

“Bioluminescent plankton,” Akim whispered. “They’re back.”

The sea, for all we had done to it in our battle against the rift, was healing. Sean leaned over, not quite brave enough to trail a hand in the water just yet. The glow limned his features from below, lit blue fire in his eyes.

“It’s beauti—”

We hit the crest of a wave, the raft bouncing. Sean toppled forward, caught off-guard in his moment of reverence. Without thinking, I lurched forward and grabbed him, pulling hard on his forearm to ensure he didn’t fall.

And that was the moment when the pause came, that silent hesitation. I thought about falling, about how he almost drifted too far out before the gravity of this place, of us, hopefully drew him back. For a moment, our eyes met, and I would never say these things to him aloud, but I hope I conveyed them: I’ve got you. We’ve got you. We’ve all got each other.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Oh yeah I'm in.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Anomalous Blowout posted:

:siren: :siren: :siren: FABULOUS PRIZE FOR BAD WRITERS ALERT

Good afternoon, Thunderdome. A cool contest prize has fallen into my pocket, and given the state of the world, I'd rather put it to use than use it myself.

I have up for grabs a full short story critique from bestselling writer, Tiptree scholar, PKD award winner, yada yada yada Meg Elison. If you don't know Meg...


I believe this covers a story of up to 6,000 words. Meg is an incredible editor and if you have a piece you've been tinkering and thinking about shopping to magazines, this is a good chance to get some very talented eyes on it before you start submitting it around.

Rather than simply giving this away as a prize to a winner of a TD round, I am raffling this prize off for donations to The Loveland Foundation, which is providing 8 free therapy sessions to Black women and girls in the US.

The rules are simple:
Everyone who donates $10 or more is in the draw. If you want to donate more, this is awesome. If you want to, you can donate on behalf of a goon who may not be able to afford it (or just a buddy you like!) to nominate them for the prize, and that is also cool. On the form, fill out 'Team Thunderdome' as your team so we can track totals.

PM, email, or Discord PM me screenshots of your receipts. Email is atlacoya+sa at gmail dot com.

Closes a week from today. This post authorised by all the necessary blood royals.

A couple folks mentioned donating or that they planned to on various channels without ever sending me receipts, so I'm bumping this for one extra day in case anyone forgot!

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Anomalous Blowout posted:

:siren: :siren: :siren: FABULOUS PRIZE FOR BAD WRITERS ALERT

Good afternoon, Thunderdome. A cool contest prize has fallen into my pocket, and given the state of the world, I’d rather put it to use than use it myself.

I have up for grabs a full short story critique from bestselling writer, Tiptree scholar, PKD award winner, yada yada yada Meg Elison. If you don’t know Meg…


I believe this covers a story of up to 6,000 words. Meg is an incredible editor and if you have a piece you’ve been tinkering and thinking about shopping to magazines, this is a good chance to get some very talented eyes on it before you start submitting it around.

Rather than simply giving this away as a prize to a winner of a TD round, I am raffling this prize off for donations to The Loveland Foundation, which is providing 8 free therapy sessions to Black women and girls in the US.

The rules are simple:
Everyone who donates $10 or more is in the draw. If you want to donate more, this is awesome. If you want to, you can donate on behalf of a goon who may not be able to afford it (or just a buddy you like!) to nominate them for the prize, and that is also cool. On the form, fill out ‘Team Thunderdome’ as your team so we can track totals.

PM, email, or Discord PM me screenshots of your receipts. Email is atlacoya+sa at gmail dot com.

Closes a week from today. This post authorised by all the necessary blood royals.

Hey, Thunderdome, you know what is rad? Together, we raised $305 ($255 on the page, plus a couple donations that somehow didn’t get registered against the total but I got screenshots of) for Loveland! Thank you so much to everybody who donated, and thanks to people who nominated their friends for the prize, too. :)

The winner of our FABULOUS LITERARY CRITIQUE PRIZE is…

:toot: Mrenda! DM me on Discord and I’ll put you in touch with Meg!

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


On a Long Enough Timeline
1680 words


Timing never was my strong suit. So when Hamish called me up on comms and sputtered excitedly it’s happening, it’s happening, it’s happening! my first thought was a dreary, resigned Of course it is. And of course it’s happening now.

There was no need to clarify what the “it” in question was. All of planet earth had been waiting for months with collective bated breath. They’d spent a couple years tinkering with the laser array, then fired its pieces up into space, where they dangled like the universe’s most expensive pearl necklace, encircling the planet and waiting. Waiting for it to happen.

Something had finally knocked Envisat out of orbit. The big, inert hunk of debris was finally spinning out of control, on a collision course with a dozen other hunks of low-orbit garbage, all primed to set into motion a domino-topple of space junk that endangered everything from people on the ground to the comms satellites Hamish and I were using right that second.

Hence the lasers. The Band. It was happening. They were finally spinning those big bad boys up to incinerate the debris before it could do any harm.

And there I was, miles from anywhere, neck-deep in pitch-dark temperate rainforest with both arms crammed up to the elbows in a ferret trap. The ferret trap was full of ferret, a big dark-furred bastard that I’d grabbed by the neck just as Hamish rang.

“Hold still,” I said, maneuvering the syringe with my ferret-free hand. The animal thrashed and raked its claws against my glove, churning up ferret-stink.

“Please,” I added when my first entreaty had no effect.

I gripped the squirmy little mustelid, pressed it against the trap’s floor, and sank the needle in. Sighing in relief, I pumped the little critter full of retrovirus, then extracted my arms from the trap and left it to stew for a moment.

Mindful not to jab myself, I tucked the spent hypodermic into the sharps pouch on my belt.

Finally, resignedly, I got back to Hamish.

“Well lucky you. They have an ETA?”

“Not long,” he said. “Minutes.” My voice must have telegraphed that to me, the moment was a Huge Bummer, because he asked very quickly afterward, “Where are you?”

I was somewhere up an old, dry tributary of the Waimangaroa River, the remnants of a braided riverbed whose glaciers had long since lost the ability to put food on the table, so to speak.

“Not far from Camp Three,” I told Hamish in more technical terms. A few years back, the government had peeled open a regulatory backdoor, allowed exploratory digging near the old Denniston mines. Camp Three was the active camp furthest up in the hills, which Chabot and Co. graciously let us use as home base.

I squatted down and hauled open the slider door on the trap. The ferret rocketed out into the underbrush, leaving the trap free for me to bait and set all over again.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said to Hamish once I’d fixed the trap up. “Can’t see poo poo in Camp Three anyhow.”

“Gosh.” I heard his keys clattering from hundreds of kliks away. “Have a little faith, would you?”

“In what?”

“In me.”

In the dark, a smile spread across my mouth. I cranked my headlamp as bright as it could go.

“You’re a huge dork,” I informed him, my breath condensing into lamplit fog.

“I’m a huge dork who’s going to get you the view of a lifetime.” Clickety-clack. Then he hummed and said, “Go back down the way you came.”

“Hey, Hamish…” I started to walk. “You remember that time you walked me off a cliff?”

“A small cliff,” he protested. “You know the topography out here.”

The last quake we’d had in ’23 had lifted some sections of the seabed four whole meters up out of the ocean. Ravines appeared where they hadn’t been before. Great, worrisome cracks rent the glaciers into even more precarious pieces. All our maps rendered useless overnight. It had been what inspired me, all the way back then, to take up this line of work. To finally put my hobbyist’s understanding of the world and its tectonic plates and its forests and its ferrets to use.

“Okay,” he said. “You should be hitting the access road soon. It’s pretty overgrown, but it should still be passable.”

He was right. The glow of my lamp lit up a fern-choked pathway in the dark, one of the roads to the old mines, the spent ones.

“You know they still haven’t fixed the groundwater,” I mumbled. “The guys who ran the last mine through here? Just left all that poo poo leaching into the creekbeds. Bit poo poo they opened it back up, if you ask me.”

“It is,” Hamish agreed. But his voice was thoughtful, the way it got when he didn’t agree all the way. “It’s a balancing act, though,” he said. “We wouldn’t be out here if it weren’t for the…”

“Yeah, yeah.”

There were levies, now: if you felt like chopping down trees or tearing up hillsides for lignite, you paid a part of it back to folks like us who jammed possums and ferrets full of gunk that rendered them infertile. Everybody won, in theory. Except the groundwater.

Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen a possum in ages. I made a mental note to check the register when I got back to camp.

The road grew steeper, more treacherous to navigate in the dark. I was growing out of breath, my headlamp wobbling as I picked my way over roots and downed logs. Some road, Hamish.

“I’m gonna miss it, aren’t I?”

“Shush,” he said. “Quit your griping. You’ve got this. … Might wanna hurry it up a little, but you’ve got this.”

I dug in and pushed on, tilting and wobbling up the hillside like a drunk. My feet frequently slid out from under me in the misty, slippery dew, but there’s a sense of balance one acquires after enough long nights in the bush alone, not the balance of a surfer but more like the balance of those rubber punching-bag clowns that never quite fall all the way over.

Abruptly, the forest opened. The road spread out, and where my boots once squished loam and undergrowth, now there was only gravel underfoot. I crunched my way out of the forest and onto a broad, flat patch of rocks and dirt. Little tufts of grass, fleeting and ghostly in the glow of my headlamp, were all that grew. And the hillside further up was ugly, clumpy bare dirt.

Whatever this was, it wasn’t fresh. There was no smell of oil or fumes, just dust and rocks and quiet. An old scar in the earth, left over from when men had passed through, ripped the planet open, and found nothing worth extracting.

But when I looked up, I could see why Hamish had led me there. This broad, half-healed wound in the topography offered a wide break in the trees.

Overhead, the river of the Milky Way slithered across a sky of otherwise pure black. Stars twinkled in innumerable thousands, the surrounding land dark for miles and miles in all directions. All the balances and compromises that Hamish and I had butted heads over throughout the years hadn’t led to light pollution on the ground, at least… but the sky was a different story.

Neatly bisecting the vista of the Milky Way, the Band winked down at me, a series of satellites engaged in an eternal group-hug around the planet. I jogged up the hillside, panting, a stitch in my side.

“Do you know where on the Band--” I tried to ask Hamish, but I was too out of breath to finish. My stomach twisted into knots. I was gonna miss it, I was gonna loving miss it.

I tapped my headlamp off and let the darkness gulp me down. Slowly, as my eyes adjusted, the sky seemed to glow even brighter, seemed to contract and expand with my breath.

“You there yet?” Hamish asked. “I don’t know how much time--”

It started.

The glittering apparatus of the Band began to glow, light pulsing in a relay from one satellite to the next. Lances of brilliant, retina-searing light arced from A to B until all the points were joined, like God was up there playing connect-the-dots. The lines of light formed a glowing white-gold web, and then something passed through it and caught alight. First one something, then several.

Like little shooting stars, debris tumbled into the waiting trap of the Band and was blown to smithereens. The harmless fragments burnt up on reentry, dragging tails of blazing greenish-blue behind them like burning copper.

They chased one another across the horizon like man-made bolides, burning up and arcing down and then gone.

“Holy poo poo,” Hamish murmured in my ear.

“Yeah.” No witty commentary this time. “Holy poo poo.”

We watched, on separate hilltops half an island apart, as the last of the debris burnt up. For a while, the sky remained falsely alight with retinal afterburn. I blinked; the patterns danced across the inside of my eyelids.

As the lights finally faded from my eyes, I took a moment, anchoring myself in quiet kinship with the dark and the quiet. The fireworks were over.

Strange, how the millions of years added up. Earthquakes shook continents up from the sea, men stripped the hilltops of their ores and melted it down and fired it off into space, where it spiralled around for a while before falling right back down again. Smaller tremors quaked us out of cozy jobs and back into the woods, where we inoculated ferrets to coax the birds back into forests that were still healing from the last time we played God.

Now, maybe, we could get our dark skies back.

And maybe the bush would cover this scar someday, swallow it up and leave no signs of our having passed through. The ferrets at least would gently caress themselves into extinction, endlessly firing blanks. And the water would seep through ice and stone and ash and come out clean again. Filters always did their job, given long enough.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


In and please give me the 1970s.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


I Know I've Started to Think About Leaving Tonight
1883 words
Gary Numan - Cars


It always feels good to test drive a new model. Dorothea slouches back in her La-Z-Boy, hits a PIN code on her keyboard, and becomes Nicoletta. The sensation resembles a prolonged blink, the way it feels to take off her regular glasses and put on the reading glasses which dangle from a chain around her neck.

It’s more complicated than that, of course. The implants which form a delicate bridge between Dorothea’s hippocampal and neocortical networks all activate, a little pearly string of them nestled away in her brain tissue. And over in Nicoletta’s brain, her retrosplenial bypass shunt kicks in and neatly cleaves her self from her mind. Her array of implants are intended to transfer all mnemonic and sensorimotor aspects of navigation to the new hands behind the wheel: Dorothea’s.

She flexes her new fingers, turns over her new palms, and marvels at how taut and tan and smooth the skin is. Nicoletta, according to her profile, is but twenty-four. Beyond Nicoletta’s smooth, tan hands, the clinic is a calm oasis of molded white plastic, shoots of bamboo, and soft, neutral-toned leathers. It’s an amalgamation of every upmarket spa Dorothea has ever been to, complete with relaxing windchimes-over-rainfall zen drone playing from the speakers.

A less experienced driver might have taken some time to relax, to soak in the ambiance and roll their fresh young joints and breathe in and out with their young, unlaboured lungs. Sit back and smell the incense awhile. But Dorothea has been doing this so long she just stretches, peels herself up out of the cozy leather lounge chair, and heads out the door. She pops her PIN into another pad on the way out for verification, and then the world is hers.

The world sounds so different through Nicoletta’s ears. Dorothea slips a slim silver phone out of her pocket, opens up the TunnelMe app, and inputs her PIN one last time. Bang on the hour, she calls her therapist.

“It’s so good to hear from you,” is how Sasha, her counsellor, greets her every time. And it’s funny she should say that, because of course, Dorothea has a different voice every time she calls her. Silly girl.

After exchanging some pleasantries, Sascha guides her out of the foyer and onto the sidewalk. Dorothea emerges onto a leafy suburban street.

“How are you feeling?” asks Sasha.

And it’s the damnedest thing. “Fine,” says Dorothea, breathy and bewildered with gratitude. “It must be something about… being in her body. Being younger. I can just walk on out of here and I don’t feel a thing.” She takes a breath, smells hot pavement and shedding cottonwood. Dorothea’s usual body has the worst allergies. Breathing clear this time of year is a pure delight.

“You keep working on these exercises and we’ll have you out and about in your own body in no time,” Sasha promises, ever the optimist. It’s been a slow process over two years, building up to even this. Were she in her own body right now, Dorothea would run screaming for the door.

“Today we’re going to walk over to your house,” says Sasha. “Acquainting yourself with the roads, the sidewalks, your neighbourhood. It’s important for you to see that there’s no threat there. We’ll—”

Dorothea blinks and she’s back in her hygiene chair, feet kicked up on the recliner and body stuffed full of various tubes and catheters. The transition was sudden, jarring, with none of the usual count-back-and-relax techniques. She jerks as though stricken with whiplash, bringing a hand to her wrinkled face. The lounge is pitch black.

The brownouts have been worse than usual lately, since last fire season took out so much of the grid. They could barely build the poles back up quicker than new fires burned them down these days.

“Thanks for that,” she snipes at the chair.

Body stiff with arthritis, Dorothea rises from her chair, uses her phone as a flashlight, and lights her brownout candles.

It’s about then the barking starts.

Dorothea has never seen the dog that lives in the little grey house with the chain-link fence across the way. They got it about a year back. It does that thing dogs do sometimes, yipping its damnfool head off for any reason under the sun. But for some reason, perhaps a complete lack of anything better to do, Dorothea pulls her curtain back and peers outside.

Just the sight of the street sends a roil of revulsion through her stomach. Her skin shudders and her teeth ache. She taps on the window, reminds herself of the soothing presence of the glass. No smoke in here. No fumes. Just clean air. And ha, no cottonwood fluff either.

The interior of her neighbours’ house is similarly candlelit, a man and a woman’s silhouettes both passing before the big bay window from time to time.

The dog continues barking. And to Dorothea’s utter dislike—which, after a few minutes of this, congeals in her belly into a thick and porridgey contempt—they just wander around and do nothing.

All this time, she’d assumed the dog’s occasional peals of barking were due to the simple fact that it was a dog. Now, though, she wonders. She stands at her window and she wonders.

###

Looking out the window becomes a habit. And oddly, her habit makes it easier on her during her sessions with Sasha. She test drives a couple new bodies, tips her hosts generously, and begins to walk mincing little circuits around her neighbourhood using other people’s legs.

“You think you might be ready to try your porch, D?” Sasha asks at the end of a session where Dorothea has been performing her wanders as a skinny Dominican man with an eyebrow ring.

“Why my porch?” Dorothea asks. “I’ve walked past the house twice.”

“I don’t mean as him.” Sasha’s voice is gentle, encouraging. “I mean in your own skin. I won’t pressure you, of course, but I think you might be ready.”

###

Dorothea is not ready. She lets Sasha talk her into thinking she is, and the result is an unmitigated disaster. With one trembling, knobby-knuckled hand, she manages to unlatch her front door, but it swings open wider than she anticipates, and even that is enough to send thrills of panic cinching up her throat. Her heart ricochets against her sternum. She begins to tremble all over. She holds her breath as long as she can, because the air is the problem, the reason why she’s stayed inside so long to begin with. The fires, they churned up so much ash and smoke, thick and hot and choking—

Wearing a mask hadn’t felt like enough. Wearing a respirator hadn’t felt like enough. The only thing that kept her safe, that convinced her she wasn’t breathing in poison, was staying put with the doors and windows closed.

Through the chattering of her own teeth, she hears barking. She looks across the street, sees that her neighbours are digging in a flower bed, and spies the very tip of a little white dog’s nose peeking through a gap in the fence. It barks. They ignore it.

She takes a step back into the cool, safe shadows of her home. She’s shaking too hard to even reach out and close the door.

That night, a horrible thought occurs to her: what if the dog’s been barking all day every day, locked away in that yard with nothing to do but breathe the unsafe air, but she never heard it because she’s always riding in a bodyshare?

###

“I have something to do today,” she tells Sasha, not even mentioning that she tried and failed to go outside. “There’s this dog. It’s… lonely. Stuck in this little fenced-in scrap of yard all day.”

“Uh-huh,” says Sasha, in that softly understanding way that immediately tells Dorothea she thinks the dog is a metaphor.

“No, you coot,” says Dorothea. “A real dog.” A beat passes. “I’m going to set it free.”

“I’m proud of you,” says Sasha, and… Dorothea just doesn’t have time to convince her. In fact, maybe it’s better if she thinks the dog is a metaphor. Stealing a dog must be a crime of some sort.

Today, Dorothea is a short, slim blonde girl whose profile called her Jasmine. Almost nobody uses their real names on TunnelMe or the other bodyshare apps. Which makes sense, really. A lot of people must use them for all sorts of perversion. Jasmine’s profile in particular dropped a lot of hints about how flexible and athletic she was.

Which is all the better for Dorothea, as she approaches the little grey house, it’s all shuttered up, its occupants still away at work for the day.

“Sasha,” she murmurs. “Stay with me, but… stay quiet. I’m… I’m doing it.”

Dorothea was never a sprinter, even when she was much younger. But Jasmine’s body is a well-oiled machine. It kicks into a run with the supple, springy-stepped ease of youth, and she’s taking a running start and then she’s leaping over the fence, landing in the yard on the other side with a spray of dirt.

The dog is a small, white, wiry-haired thing, a chain wrapped around its bare neck. She can see it’s rubbed down to the skin in a few places. When it spots her, it starts nervously and stands as still as Dorothea did when she attempted to step over the threshold. Then, slowly, its tail begins to wag. And then the wagging spreads, and soon its whole body is shaking with excitement, and it breaks into a rattling, clinking bound in its excitement to haul tail over to her. It meets her with a flurry of sniffs and licks, all wet tongue and noise, and Dorothea lets it explore Jasmine’s palms and sniff her all over and deem her safe.

The chain’s all tangled. She can’t figure out how to unlatch it. So, using her superior young body’s strength, she just yanks the mount out of the half-rotted fence. It comes away with ease, and she unlatches the gate and lets herself and the small dog out and into the grass.

Light and quick on her feet, she jogs the dog across the road, up and onto the sagging, neglected front stoop.

“Okay, boy,” she says, fetching the hidden key from beneath the pot of bedraggled, half-dead lavender. “You stay close. We’re almost home free.”

She unlocks the door and steps inside in her borrowed body. The dog’s nails click on the floor as it scurries in attentively after her.

In the corner of the lounge, illuminated by the monitors that track her vital signs, is Dorothea. The Other Dorothea. The real one.

“C’mere boy,” she says. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Dorothea-as-Jasmine leads the dog over, coaxes it into sniffing the prone woman’s withered palm. He needs to know he’s safe here, just in case he gets anxious before she can wake her real body up.

She imagines what it might be like to go on walks together, whether they’ll—

“Dorothea? Are you all right? It’s been a while.” Sasha’s voice, worried in her earpiece.

A grin spreads across the mouth that isn’t really hers. “Doing mighty fine, Sasha,” she says. “Mighty fine.”

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


In!

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Tipping the Scales
1500 words


Alain sipped hot coffee from his thermos in a vain attempt to fortify himself against the cold. He trudged along the beach, fighting the stiff nor’wester every step of the way. In the crook of his arm he carried a precious cargo: a basket swaddled in flannel sheeting, tucked beneath the flap of his slicker to keep its contents safe and dry.

One by one, he sought out the nests that cropped up along the sandy spit. They were small, semicircular humps in the sand, barely noticeable when all was dry and calm and sunny, let alone when the sea and air alike were full of froth.

Still, he found three. And every time he found one, he stooped down and gently probed his fingers through the clumpy, wet sand, seeking out the eggs buried within. He brushed them clean, then tucked them into his basket, secreting them away from both their natural habitat and the certain death that awaited them.

He was ready to turn back for the carpark when he spotted it, just a ways down the spit: a fourth nest, this one perilously close to the thrashing froth of the tideline. God-damned idiot snakes. He considered leaving that fourth nest be. His hands were freezing. And they’d laid the damned eggs in a completely infeasible spot. The tide and the storm would swallow it and that would absolutely not be Alain’s fault. He could, in good conscience, let them drown.

… Except he couldn’t. He owed a debt to the little guys. He’d destroyed far more than he saved, and until he’d righted that wrong, any eggs he let die would only lend their weight to the bad side of the scale, the side of casual, indifferent destruction.

Alain stumbled through the spray and crouched, bracing himself against the wind. He dug his hand down, and just as his fingertips brushed the first eggshell, the storm howled as if in response. A great gust of wind bull-rushed the shore. It slammed Alain sideways and he rolled to avoid landing on his basket. The egg in his fingers slipped away, and as the sea churned in, he had to grope with blind fingers beneath the water’s surface, grabbing and grabbing and grabbing and only managing to save four before his fingers no longer responded to his brain’s commands.

Defeated, saturated, he crawled up onto drier sand on his hands and knees, the surf pounding the shoreline behind him. He cradled those last four eggs beneath his coat, warm against his chest. Safe, for now.

###

At home, he set them up in the incubator like he always did, twenty-one little speckled eggs. Their colour always reminded him of toothpaste: white with the faintest tinge of blue, darker blue flecks like the little minty breath-freshening bits.

“Good haul this morning, dear?” Viv called from the kitchen, putting on another pot of coffee. Alain looked back down the cluttered hallway, past the mounted fish and maps and charts. The storm had left him feeling sad in a way he couldn’t yet process.

“Water got to a lot of ‘em,” he said. “Pretty cold out.”

“If it’s so cold, why don’t you come in here and sit by the stove?”

Alain stared at the warm glow of the incubator light, then adjusted it so that it rested just a little bit closer to the eggs within the tank. It bathed his hand in warmth and light. The wait always killed him, and it killed him even harder when some would hatch and the little snakes would slither out but others would just sit there, sad and inert, leaving him waiting and waiting and waiting for a sign, for some clue that they weren’t duds.

Viv emerged from the kitchen and pressed a warm mug into his hands.

He let him lead her to the kitchen. They warmed themselves by the stove while the storm threw itself against the shutters and the doors.

###

When the storm was no longer knocking on his front door, Alain laced up a dry pair of boots and kissed Viv on the cheek and left his precious eggs beneath their heat lamp and went to work. He dragged the surf rake out of the shed and hitched it to his trailer with a satisfying series of clunks. Vivid neon yellow, the surf rake stretched its open arms out, a beach-bum combine harvester, grinders ready to churn through the inevitable flood of debris that washed up on the shore.

The tractor rumbled to life as he eased the pedal down, and once he hit sand, he flipped the surf rake on. It shuddered as its gears began to turn, sifting through inch after inch of sandy detritus, crushing and twisting the wreckage of bottle caps and cigarette butts and forgotten Big Gulps, all hoovered up into its gullet. He left behind him a wake of pristine, finely-groomed sand.

He tried not to think about the snakes. Those dumb little snakes, laying clutch after futile clutch in the beaches he had to comb clean.

There was no way he’d gotten them all. Not in weather like that.

The tractor gave another shiver, as if aware of his misdeeds, and something in the surf rake’s teeth crunched. Alain’s fingers twitched on the wheel, still somehow numb and cold and uncoordinated from his scramble in the surf.


###


“Supper’s getting cold! And besides that, if you don’t get your rear end in here soon, I’ll just eat yours myself!”

Alain quirked a smile, peering over his shoulder. Viv stood in the hallway, framed by the yellow spill of light from the range hood. She had a quartered potato impaled on her fork, and she chomped it threateningly.

“A watched pot never boils,” she said, more seriously. “Those eggs are what, a day old? Honey, you can leave them.”

Alain knew that. The eggs of the black racer snake took an average of two months, give or take, to hatch.

But still, it was hard to pull away. Felt like he was failing them, somehow, if he didn’t watch over them at least a little.

“You should quit that job,” Viv would say sometimes. “It gets you so morose.”

But if he quit, the guy they hired to replace him wouldn’t search the nests first. He’d just drive right over ‘em.


###


In the dark, Viv’s breath was a warm, soft gust against his shoulder. Alain anchored a hand in her hair, smoothed a thumb along her brow, and tried not to think about churning sand and garbage.

“What’s on your mind?” she murmured. His hand stilled. He assumed she’d been asleep.

“You can talk to me, you know.” She nuzzled her nose into his palm.

He could talk to her. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to. It was that he wasn’t sure what he’d say would make sense. He didn’t know how to explain that the older he got, the more he fretted over things like snake eggs and garbage on the beach. How he worried the longer he walked this planet, the greater a debt he owed to clean it.

“How many do you think I need to save for it all to balance out?”

“What?” Her voice was warm with gentle teasing. “You a buddhist now?”

“I’m getting old,” he said. “The older I get, the less I like that other things have to die for us to live.” For him to pay his mortgage on his little seaside bungalow, for him to eat his casseroles.

“Sometimes I worry I’m gonna lose you to those snakes.”

In the dark, she pressed a kiss to the underside of his jaw, then drifted off to sleep, which didn’t come so easy for Alain.

###

Another long summer evening came and went. Alain tinkered at his shop bench, one eye mindfully on the incubator. The eggs were still a month away from hatching.

Viv shouldered the door open, arms full of fragrant fresh-cut rhubarb, right out of the garden.

“Have I lost you to those snakes yet?” she teased.

And something occurred to Alain then. He reached out, snagged her by the wirst. He wove their fingers together, felt the heat and the strength and the calluses of her gardeners’ hands.

“No,” he said. “That’s not how you’ll lose me.”

He guided her hand beneath the warmth of the incubator’s heating lamp, the speckled toothpaste-blue eggs laying warm beneath their knuckles.

“When I don’t go out for them, that’s how you’ll know I’m lost.”

She finally seemed to get it then. One of her arms looped around him, gave him a loose squeeze from behind.

“I won’t go fetch ‘em myself, you know.” He could hear her smirk.

“Cruel.” He snorted. “What’d they ever do to you?”

“Oh, nothing.” She squeezed his hand again. “I don’t mind snakes in the slightest. But I won’t get out of bed at five in the morning for ‘em. So I suppose you’d better stick around for a few more years.”

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


In!

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


To The Sirens Ye Shall Come
1195 words


Baptiste promised he’d lead us through the fog, so I followed. He’d led us well up to that point: down the river and through the delta in our flat-bottomed barges, then across the night-dark lagoon to where the ships waited. He’d been the one insisting we’d made more running Canadian whiskey than Bimini rum, and we’d all shrunk back from his anger, afraid to argue. We’d unloaded our casks of Walker & Sons, tipped our hats to Cap’n Boudreau, and took off in our jolly.

Then the fog arrived, slithering over the cool, calm sea. It swaddled in close, still and stagnant, not a lick of wind to send it on its way.

Baptiste was a hard man, but a canny one. We looked the other way when he was rough with the boys, then even rougher with the women. We looked toward him now, and he told us to hug the shore, far enough out from land that rocks wouldn’t hinder us, yet close enough to catch the glow of Dog Point Light when we drew near.

We rowed. We breathed in fog. We felt the weight of our fattened purses in our coats and listened to Baptiste mumble readings off his compass.

The night stretched on. Any scrap of moon that might have told us up from down was swallowed by the fog. The world’s ceiling pressed down upon us like a flat, grey smothering palm, and shouldn’t we have seen the light from Dog Point by now?

Not a man spoke. Not Rafe nor Dustin nor Tanser nor myself. We were a silent huddle against the damp and Baptiste’s wrath alike, and despite our silence, I could swear our thoughts colluded. With each swipe of the oars, the question loomed larger in my mind: where was the beacon?

Tanser spoke first, his feet restless on the jolly’s sticky floor.

“Sir.” He addressed Baptiste with audible reluctance, his fingers tense on the lantern he cradled. “Are we still bearing south? We ought to have--”

The jolly creaked beneath Baptiste as he leaned forward, bracing a boot upon Tanser’s seat. The rowers stilled. The stagnant night around us seemed to hold its breath.

Baptiste’s voice was the soft hiss of steam released from a valve, a hint at the violent pressure contained within. “We ought to have what?”

Tanser coughed, but he was a bigger man than I, and perhaps being born big grants one a courage I have never known. He stood, chest to chest with his Captain.

“Are you certain this is the way?” he demurred. “Sir.

Baptiste exploded. He surged forward, rocking the boat, and as he drew his pistol I wondered, aghast, if he meant to shoot Tanser for merely asking. It was with wincing relief that I watched him bring the butt of his sidearm to bear across Tanser’s mouth. (And then wincing guilt that I considered such violence a favourable outcome.) Wood met tooth with a crack. Tanser’s head whipped ‘round and he sank hard onto his bench.

“Any further questions?” asked Baptiste. Tanser spat blood.

A low murmur rose from the rowers, and for a moment I thought they might dare to join in Tanser’s impertinence. I vowed to lift my voice alongside them if anyone did. Well, at least two. If dissent became the majority. But before any of us could open our fool mouths, a distant throb of light, diffused by the wool-thick fog, strobed at Baptiste’s back.

His eyes shone in the night. He wrenched Tanser’s lantern from his hands, then climbed for the prow.

“Ye of little faith,” he sneered, directing the rowers forward.

We hove toward the light as fast as our arms could carry us. I fondled the rudder in line with Baptiste’s every muttered order, and soon the light threatened to swallow the whole of the sky. Baptiste was a dark silhouette at the fore, profile swiveling as he sought land.

Slowing up, we coasted for a time, into the swell of light which emerged ever-brighter from the murk. I felt no relief as we neared it, though, for the glow bloomed strangely low to the surface. Dog Point sat upon piles and piles of cliffs, yet the landmass that loomed before us couldn’t have been higher than an atoll.

Before I could voice my concern, I felt the soft vibration of keel against sand. The jolly nudged up against dry land. Baptiste threw back his head and cackled, fog-muted, into the windless air. He clambered free, eyes on his compass, ordering us to beach the craft fully.

We dragged, and as we laboured, Tanser caught my eye. With the tiniest twist of his mouth, he told me that he shared my fear of this place, of the light’s disorienting wrongness. He dipped his eyes toward my boots, toward the knife he knew I kept there. I knew not what move exactly he would make, but I saw him grab for an oar as the craft settled to sand. He kept his hand upon the haft, waiting, as Baptiste strode toward the light.

Then, as we watched, slack-jawed, the light strode toward us. It bobbled horribly, a live and moving thing, nearing Baptiste in a few bounding steps. The light’s movement stirred a zig-zag wake through the fog, hinting at the passage of something giant and unseen in the dark beyond.

We only caught a glimpse of the thing that snatched him, the way the light gaped from its cavernous maw as it lowered the ridged, prehensile tower of its neck. Like a great, gulping eel, it dove forward, teeth aglow, snatching Baptiste in its mouth and crunching and tearing.

I froze like the coward I’ve always known myself to be. I stood there, rooted to the spot, until Tanser screamed my name through his swollen, busted mouth and then dragged me away by the wrist. In his other hand, he gripped the oar he’d intended to use upon our Captain, whose shrieks now wetly pierced the night.

Fog-blind, we stumbled through strobes of alternating light and darkness. I tried not to think of what those flashing lights meant. Twice I stumbled. Twice Tanser wrenched me up. But the third time, it was he who fell, and something in his leg gave a stomach-churning crack.

I kept running. Shame flooded through me in equal measure to the fear. When I looked over my shoulder, light bloomed on the horizon. Every fibre in my body longed to flee, but I forced my feet to still.

Following. Always I’d been following. First Baptiste, then Tanser, then my own blind fear. If I kept running now, what would that be for? How many precious more meters could I make it if Tanser slowed the thing down?

How many meters could justify the cost?

My heart throbbed. I turned around, creeping back toward where the man had fallen. I couldn’t even rightly call him my friend, yet he’d dragged me from the jaws of certain death.

“Go on,” he wheezed through split lip and broken teeth.

Instead, hands trembling, I pried the oar from his grip and stood my ground, turning to face the light.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


I am so busy but I will regret not being in for week 420.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Contributor
CaligulaKangaroo
Genre:
Science Fiction
Protagonist attribute:
Juggler
Protagonist obstructor:
Anti-Social
What the protagonist wants:
To be the star of the space circus
Story setting:
Somewhere else in this universe, and it's all sci-fi and poo poo
Setting details:
Traveling interplanetary circus
World problem:
Space governmental distrust of space carnies
Your protagonist...
Is trying to get the thing they want, but it's difficult
Your protagonist's attribute...
Helps them gets what they want
Your protagonist's obstructor...
Is overcome in the course of pursuing what they want
At the end of the story...
The world problem is not solved, but it's getting better



Escape Velocity
2419 words


She stumbled upon you in the empty lot across the way from the nickel refinery. The stacks were breathing out streams of thin vapour, the Band glimmered with enough light to dip-dye the sky navy blue. And you? You were standing on broken asphalt, juggling bowling-pins.

“Hey!” A voice called out to you, sudden and curious. “Juggler!”

Startled, you looked up. In your haste, you only managed to catch two of your pins, gripping them by their slender necks. The last one fell to the ground with a hollow ktunk.

You hadn’t recognised her voice, but once you set eyes on her, you knew the girl. Short, fit, blonde, she had a blunt chin and serious eyes. You knew her from gymnastics. Her name was Mercedes, but she went by Mercy. She was good on the bars.

“I know you,” she said. “Why haven’t you been in class?”

Gathering up your fallen pins, you tucked them under your arms. You two were in the same year, had to be if she was in your class, but standing there with your arms full of bowling pins and her serious eyes levelled on you like an accusation, you felt young.

“I hurt my ankle.” A babyish thing for a big dumb baby to say. “No gymnastics for a while.”

You half-expected her to make fun of you, expected her to somehow intuit that you’d sprained your ankle while doing something stupid. But instead, she grimaced and said, “Sucks.”

“Super sucks,” you agreed. A second later, it hit you. “Hey, why aren’t you in class?”

She squinted off toward the refinery and didn’t answer for a while.

“Got sent home.” Mercy left it ambiguous. “Anyway, if you’re sick of juggling, we could hang.”

She smiled at you and the axis of your world shifted.

###

It was a week before Mercy was allowed back into school. Turned out she was serving a week-long suspension for picking fights. P.E. was your last class of the day, and with your ankle still buggered, you just went home. She started walking with you, and then she’d hang around and watch you practice.

“Why juggling?” she asked once, when you were busy trying to master adding a fifth pin to the mix.

You kept your eyes on your work, hands moving through their loops with a smooth, automatic precision, glimpses of Bandglow visible in the sky beyond.

“Dunno,” you said. “Guess I needed something to keep my hands busy while my ankle gets better.”

“Planning on running away with the circus?”

Mercy had a way of teasing you that wasn’t quite all-the-way teasing you. She didn’t have many friends, but maybe that’s because your classmates couldn’t hear the slight smile in her voice when she said that stuff.

“Maybe.” You teased her right back. “Take P.E. from a trapeze artist. Hook up with a hot clown.”

She laughed, but it trailed off kinda funny and quiet.

“We could, you know. They come by the stations every so often.”

You didn’t want to touch that wistfulness in her voice with a ten-foot pole.

And then, the next time they let her back into gymnastics class, she dangled upside-down from the uneven bars and did crunches and hip circles and free-straddles.

She announced to you, red-cheeked, dangling upside-down: “You were right. I’m gonna learn trapeze.”

###

Growing up, you tried soccer, climbing, other stuff, but you couldn’t ever manage to stick with anything. Your mother said you had the attention span of a goldfish. Your school counsellors first called you passive, then directionless, then had recently taken to asking if you were depressed.

The nickel stacks were shutting down left and right. Your neighbourhood was slowly crumbling into broken concrete and derelict hangars. Who living here wouldn’t be depressed?

But they didn’t like answers like that. So you just said you hadn’t found your passion yet.

And you kept at your juggling, combining it with balance board work during the week. Then after school, Mercy would catch you in the lot, and the two of you would practice again. And you got the impression, halfway-jokingly, that she’d beat your rear end if you didn’t.

###

“I think we’re ready,” Mercy said after a few full months of practice.

“Ready for…?” You didn’t know you’d been training for anything in particular.

“To combine forces!” She smacked her hands together, fist to palm. “Isn’t that the whole point? To join the circus and get out of here?”

“Uh, yeah!” You stammered quick agreement, less afraid of her fists and more afraid that you’d accidentally revealed to her that you hadn’t been taking this whole thing nearly as seriously.

Jutting from one of the old hangars was a rickety, half-rusted fire escape. With a swing and a groan of metal, she got into position, dangling upside down about two meters above your head. As she climbed, she told you of the circus that would be swinging by in August, Earth-time. How the big travelling shows didn’t make it out past the Kuiper Belt too often. How this would be your best chance in a real, real long time.

“Anyway,” she said. “Try to toss a pin to me.”

You hesitated. You hadn’t thrown one that high before. And you weren’t sure she’d practiced catching them. Did she know they were kinda heavy?

“Come on,” she said. “Don’t be a puss--”

You winged the pin at her, half-hoping it’d bonk her in the face to teach her a mild lesson about the p-word. But no, she caught it easily. She tossed it down. You tossed it back up. You began a slow, cautious rhythm.

As with all things physical, she was a natural. Unlike you, who always had to practice for weeks to get the basics down. Go figure.

It took time, but you got there. She learned to watch your hands rather than the pins, so she’d be ready. Over the weeks, you added another pin, then another, and soon you were joking about adding axes and knives and torches.

###

August came. Practice intensified. Subtle cords of muscle worked their way up your arms where they hadn’t before. You grew lighter, more confident on your feet with all the extra time spent on your balance board. And Mercy? Mercy flew. You’d never seen anyone take to the bars or the trapeze or juggling quite like her. So what if all the kids at school gave you an even wider berth now that the two of you were hanging out.

You and Mercy climbed up onto the derelict crumble of a repair bay to watch the ships come in. Like big, gossamer fish, they drifted down until they just barely kissed the rock’s artificial atmosphere, touching their noses to the docking needle.

“Maybe we’ll be up there someday,” said Mercy. She was quiet, her usual bravado dialled back. She’d arrived at school with a split lip that morning and absolutely nobody had asked her about it.

You reached across the rooftop and gently kicked her shin. “No maybes about it.”

That got a smile out of her. “drat right,” she said. “Mom doesn’t get it.”

Your heart did a funny little flip in your chest. You’d rambled about your own all the time, how they weren’t really home enough to parent you, how they’d tried to send you to school on your busted ankle because they hadn’t raised a whiner. But Mercy had never, ever talked about hers.

She sighed and sprawled out on her back.

“They’re opening a new pit on the pocked side,” she said. “Mom and Dad want to move us all out there soon as the habs are up. It’s--”

That side of our rock was peppered with craters, the victim of centuries of constant debris impact.

“It’s stupid!” you said, louder than you meant. You’d meant dangerous, but your mouth didn’t always obey your brain.

You wondered if she could hear your heart pounding. You watched the distant ships gliding through the sky, shimmering with Bandglow, and you tried not to look at her.

“Anyway.” She coughed. “I… uh, tickets. Next weekend.”

The conversation never recovered.

###

Captain Galacto’s Interplanetary Spectacular lived up to its name in every possible way. Every seat in the house was packed--you recognised some kids from school and their parents, as well as the rough-around-the-edges faces of some folks in your neighbourhood. Mercy sat with her folks across the ring from you, and you sat with yours, mindfully chaperoning. You peeked at her when you weren’t riveted by the acts rotating through the rings.

You noticed there weren’t many autocars parked outside, nor were there many kids from the newer side of town, where the manufactories were still open. Oh well, you thought. Sucks to be them.

You held your breath in suspense as contortionists balanced on one another’s shoulders. You gasped in delight as a man breathed fire up into the open air, belching flames like a nickel stack. You trembled when a lion--a real life lion--loped out from backstage and leapt through a series of glittering hoops. The rhinestones on the ringmaster’s jacket sparkled. The clowns whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their antics. And when the aerial artists came out, leaping and cavorting through the air with nothing but lengths of sheer silk for safety, you forgot to breathe.

While the aerialists played, you looked over to Mercy’s seat, hoping to sneak an indulgent glance of her eyes lit up with wonder.

She wasn’t there.

Her parents were, a pair of average Band-dwellers just as blocky and blonde as she. But her seat was empty.

She’s getting ready, you told yourself. Because the two of you had a plan. You’d be slipping out just before the final curtain fell, bullying your way backstage. Mercy could bully her way in anywhere. When you put on your show, they’d be wowed. They’d have no choice but to take you.

You never even glanced at the other acts, despite the fire and glitter playing at the periphery of your vision. Your eyes were for Mercy’s seat alone, still empty, and then the door. You missed it when the curtain fell, so frenzied was your search for her.

Mumbling at your parents that you needed the bathroom, you shoved your way through the crowd, stumbling beneath the bleachers and into the backstage area of one of the big pitched tents. A skinny, sylphlike aerialist unlaced his costume. A clown and the ringmaster sat smoking on the stairs.

“Whoa there, kid,” said the clown. “You’re lost. Door’s that way.”

“My friend--” you stammered, voice squeaking in your throat. “I’m looking for my--”

The clown picked you up by the straps of your overalls and turfed you out on your rear end. You were so shocked you didn’t even have it in you to protest, and as he dragged you past the ringmaster, your cheeks burned with embarrassment.

You waited where the clown dropped you, sitting cross-legged on the floor, scanning the crowd for Mercy. You knew she’d be along soon. She had to. She’d made a promise.

Navy-skied, artificial night fell upon the circus. They shut off banks and banks of floodlights until all was dark. Your parents finally found you, sitting there by the door with tears in your eyes. Your dad mussed your hair, said he’d been worried sick.

Mercy never showed.

###

For the next six nights, you parked yourself just outside the ticket booth, waiting. Mercy didn’t show at school either, and she’d been careful, so careful about making sure nobody from school knew where she lived. When you asked other kids in your class, they told you rightfully to piss off. Your parents asked you what was wrong, but you were so furious--first with her, then yourself--that you couldn’t even properly articulate yourself. Which had always been a problem. But now, bundled up in boundless sadness and rage, your thoughts were downright incoherent.

On the day the circus was due to depart, you rolled into the expo centre grounds as usual. It was early; the Band glimmered the same shade as always, indifferent.

You sat on the steps before the ticket booth. Mercy had one more day to show.

You sat for hours, and finally, a hand alighted on your shoulder. You jerked in your seat, glancing up, but instead of your friend, it was the ringmaster who stood above you, skimming a hand through his thick dark beard as he stared at you.

“I’m not sure what you’re waiting for, kid,” he said.

“A friend.” You hated how your voice cracked. “I’m just waiting for my friend.”

The ringmaster tilted his head. “She work here?”

“No.” You cleared your throat. “She wants to. We want to. But she…”

A quiet, pensive understanding passed across the man’s face. He glanced down the hallway, then back down at you.

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “It’s 2140, and people still daydream about running away with the circus? That’s some Old Earth poo poo, kid.”

He folded himself down onto the step beside you and slid a slender cigarette from a battered old box in his pocket.

“So what’s the deal?” he asked. “Wanna be a lion tamer?”

You stiffened. You were used to being made fun of. But not by adults. Something snapped.

“gently caress off,” you said. “I’ll do what I have to in order to get off this rock.” It was the first time you’d ever said it out loud, and man, it felt good.

The ringmaster smoked in silence, his expression unreadable, and when he finally said, “Fine,” it came out so uneventfully you thought you’d misheard him.

“... Sir?”

“I said fine.” He ashed his smoke on the ground and left the butt there. That’s exactly how much people cared about the place you were born.

“Meet me at the needle tomorrow morning,” he said, and that was it.

You held out hope every last second you spent on that asteroid that Mercy would show. That she’d send word. But she never did. That hurt. You knew in your gut what had happened: her parents had already taken that job on the pocked side, before the circus ships had even landed. She just hadn’t known how to tell you. And you’d called it stupid to her face.

When you finally got a chance to audition for the show, to put your juggling talents to good use, you found you did fine without her, and that hurt even worse.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


I JUDGE!!!!!! ME ME ME!!!

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


First part of Week 421 crits!

Yoruichi – The donkey enjoyed the mints, but decided not to go on TV again
Honestly this is bizarro comedy that commits to the bit so I don’t find it as jarring as I thought I would! You got a laugh out of me with the allergic to cats joke. I think the bit about “all people saw was a head in a jar” would have done better a little earlier on in the story to ground the audience more thoroughly in Bob’s POV, but lol, I am not sure at this point how much advice is really helpful considering this seems to be a throwaway joke tale. Either way! Bob’s motivations are by far the most interesting part of the story, so focusing on him earlier would have done a bit more to hold my interest.

You describe all this bonkers action pretty well—it’s easy to envision it all playing out as a bit on Futurama or something. And the donkey with the mints was Very Good. In fact, the fixation on the donkey and the donkey’s fixation on the mints are enough to pull this story up for me. So good job with that! This would not have been a winning story in a better week, but you eke it out here.

One thing to work on: Establish your protag’s wants early on so that way we care more about how they attempt to attain their goal. Plus we’ll also care more when they try and fail in the early stages, or when a radioactive blob-bear absorbs their head.



MockingQuantum – Blackout Conditions
I like the immediate sense of setting and tone and your protag’s voice comes through loud and clear from the get-go. The imagery is good. This feels like a real blog that a real person would write. “You know the land around you in all its beauty and threat” is a great line. The second entry is a great slice-of-life scene also, and again, feels like real things that real people would do. I’m starting to look for foreshadowing at this point, wondering where you’re going.

Annnd… ending! Whoa, that came on abruptly. I like the ending for what it is: a nice image with some good spooky spooks.

However… there needed to be a little bit more between midpoint and ending for me to feel like this was a complete story. Either foreshadow that abrupt disappearance much stronger or build up to it, because this left me feeling like I missed something. I went back and reread it all and no, I don’t think I did. It just happens very abruptly!

One thing to work on: Leaving breadcrumbs or ramping up the horror slowly. I know you read a lot of horror so I know you’re acquainted with works that do this. Try to think of “tension” as the place that exists between what the audience knows and what the character knows. The tension will hit much harder if we know in advance the horrible fate your scientists will suffer.



Crabrock – Extra Good News
I like the way you chose to tell this story. The unique narrative format of dialogue and radio transmissions only forces the reader to imagine things, and imagining a cute tiny frog city is a pleasure to imagine. It is a complete story with a beginning middle and an end, at least, and I can give you that. It is also basically a vehicle for a single joke.

I did really like the dialogue, though. You have a knack for that. All the characters had fairly distinct voices. And the line where you yoinked the title from was a great line.

One thing to work on: You can do better. I feel like I'm putting exactly as much effort into this crit as you did into the story.



Sparksbloom – Asking For Directions
This story starts out weird, which I don’t mind, because the weirdness is grounded and matter-of-fact. I don’t like how you’re opening up with that past perfect tense, though—it immediately separates the narrator from the action and the reader from the narrator. That being said, the exchange about “a free tattoo” gave me a good laugh and feels very true to the source material from the prompt.

You lean into the absurdity of this premise well and there are some funny lines between Jinel and her father. I can picture the dad very well, even if the dragon bits get a little slapdash and silly. Overall, as far as jokey TDs go, this is solidly average with flashes of being above so.

One thing to work on: This really stumbled in the beginning with that past-perfect tense and as soon as you escaped from that I enjoyed the whole thing much more. Food for thought! Starting your story off in a way that creates artificial distance between your characters and readers will do you disservice more often than not.



Weltlich – Room 421
The way you capitalise It and then don’t kinda jarred me, but overall I’m here for this opening. The conversational style of your narration works well enough, but by the time I’m 1/3 of the way or so into this story it’s still so ambiguous and light on details that I feel a little lost. I like the details about “It” getting into the machine and affecting the clerks. That was a nice chilly image and the contrast of the implied horror vs the practicalities of dealing with office printer issues is a nice juxtaposition. This basically reads like a chatty security guard’s POV of an SCP entry or something. It’s not bad, but it never quite delivers, and the ambiguity works more often against you than with you.

One thing to work on: When writing stories that provide their worldbuilding in drip-feed format like this, be sure you give readers enough to work with. Don’t withhold so many details that your readers are incapable of picturing the scene, or worse, incapable of sympathizing with your characters.



GrandmaParty – Mellix and the Goblins
“When the air was still warm and the moon was still in pieces” hooked me instantly. Good job! Love the imagery of Lenna with the brides, too. So far this is shaping up to tick a lot of my personal boxes. Your descriptions of Mellix are fantastical and amusing and evocative. The more I read into this story the more I enjoy it, although by the third or fourth paragraph I’m starting to wonder who the protag is gonna be exactly and what’s gonna befall them. Still, I am enjoying the description of the architects and their chosen abodes. This is all feeling very Aesop Fable to me in a good way.

LOVE the unfamiliar cat line.

Some of the phrasing as we get to the goblins segment feels a little sloppy. “With a great jumbling” is an odd way to describe people collaborating about architecture.

Unfortunately this pleasant tale completely falls apart at the end. Your three rules don’t seem reflective of the story’s content, and the attempt at humour falls mostly flat for me. This feels like a story that got rushed when you noticed you only had 200 words or 20 minutes or whatnot left. The end bears almost no resemblance to the beginning.

One thing to work on: Watch out for tonal shift. This story takes such an abrupt u-turn that it feels like you literally got interrupted by real life while trying to write it. Sudden tonal shifts can be fun when executed well or when telegraphed appropriately, but this story had neither of those things.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


In, flash.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


take the moon posted:

"'You can't look at me like a piece of meat all day and then lecture me like I'm a child.'" (page 233.)

My Christ blinds
are down-
I'm reading about Virgin


Be Ye Devourer or Devoured
815 words


Come, now, Pilgrim. Take a load off. Your feet must be so tired. Everyone has had to walk their own distance to reach my doors and they’ve walked it at their own pace. However long it took you to arrive, however many times you strayed from the path, be ye not judged. Step over my threshold, cozy up to the bosom of my pews and find a home within the ribs of my rafters.

You got here just in time, Pilgrim. The service just wound down, and after service, we open up the pulpit so that my flock of faithful can share their testimonies, recount their journeys out of the dark and into the light.

No two people find this chapel in the same way. No two people even see “this chapel” as the same thing. Which makes sense, when you think about it. I spread the lacquered arms of my pews, gather all who are willing into the shade of my spires. I bathe all who wish themselves cleansed in my waters and then I cradle your sins in the vault of my catacombs. See me as a church, a cathedral, a river, a shrine, it makes no difference. None are unwelcome.

What’s that? Oh, of course there’s a tithe. History may have moved on from the age of indulgences but even things that run on faith and feeling don’t come for free.

John Calvin almost had it right when he proposed that God had already predetermined which shining souls would make it to Heaven. “God,” if you choose to call it that, has freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass. But this is less a proclamation to the saved than to those who must prop the gates of Heaven open.

Come, come, get in line. Stand beside your brothers and think about your journey, every twist and turn that brought you here. Did you see a side street glinting in the corner of your eye? Were you deep in a forest, following a bounding rabbit that led you off your hiking trail? Did a gilt-edged envelope arrive in your letterbox?

Or are you one of those who found me through more heart-pounding means? Did a feeling of being watched overcome you while you laid flowers in a cemetery? Did you flee blindly through the trees, certain that you felt hot, stalking breath up the back of your neck? Were you running down the road to escape the bullies that always follow you home from school, only to find you lost your bearings and can’t remember which way is home?

Step up to the pulpit. Recount your Crossing. Ponder on how all this came to pass.

Kneel before my avatar, who may appear to you in any number of skins. Let him brush your crown with his white suede gloves. Let the whisper of his vestments drown out the throbbing of your pulse.

You’re here for a reason, Pilgrim. Every last one of you.

The other churches out this way, they don’t understand what I do. Their preachers, they all dig the roots of their sermons in older times. Back before the flood swallowed all, when the world was new. They hearken back to the scent of rich, new soil and promises as yet unsullied by the twists and turns of humanity’s free will.

But they’ve forgotten that older things than God tilled the furrowed fields from which Eden grew.

Kneel and take my sacrament, Pilgrim. I know it looks like water, but you are the one who changes it. You are the one who transmutes. May it taste like wine or milk or honey in your mouth. All who kneel here sip from my chalice and learn the paths their souls walked when the world was fresh. If your communion tastes of sweetness, a rich feast awaits you.

My old, old soil and sturdy foundations would be dry upon your tongue. I regret you can’t eat of my body as Christ would have you do, but I--

The others? What others? Oh, you needn’t trouble yourself with them. My foundations hold firm against the degradation of time, the winds of progress, the howls of storms because of the tithe the others pay. That is their glory. Unless you sip from my cup and taste blood, that glory is not for you.

Mankind has always been fond of parables. Let me put it to you simply. In those other churches, where they share tales of Eden and of Adam’s strength and Eve’s betrayal, they fix the lens of judgment on the woman and the serpent. Be ye deceiver or deceived, they say, Jesus Christ has already died so that you shall be free of sin.

Every one of you is either man, woman, or snake. They forget that some of you are apples.

Be ye devourer or devoured, Pilgrim? There’s only one way to find out. Your feet must be so tired after all that walking. It’s easier on your knees. Come closer. Kneel down. Open wide.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


In!

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Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006

rock
ice
storm
abyss



It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.

*


Nothing Gets By You
800 words
Tardigrades are a creature that can exist under immense pressure.


I always won the license plate game we played on road trips. Or when we’d play I Spy, I’d spy so many things with my little eye that Dad would say nothing gets past you, Eddie! And then Rudy would lose and he’d cry and cry until Mom pulled over for an ice cream

This particular trip, he cried all the way to Torrey Pines, even after he got his stupid ice cream. We met our cousins Jeremy and Alana at the campsite, and Rudy cried on and off through two rounds of frisbee golf with Dad. When we went out to chop wood, Dad was the one who took us then, too. I noticed Mom stayed by the firepit, reading from her book.

I asked Dad if we could take a hike up top to the biggest cliffs to roll some big rocks over the edge--totally rad, right? I thought I’d be really clever and invite Mom along, too.

“Isn’t your father going?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “But don’t you want to see the cliffs, too?”

Mom considered it in silence, then reopened her dog-eared paperback. “Maybe tomorrow,” she said.

On the trail up to the cliffs, I looked back toward the tiny splash of color that was our campsite: six bright little tents amid the dry browns and sage green of the hills.

Something lurched in my stomach. I hadn’t realized when we were setting them up: six tents meant Mom and Dad weren’t sharing one.

Rudy fell and scraped his knee on the walk back down. Guess what? He cried.

We had hot dogs and s’mores by the campfire and I couldn’t stop noticing things: the way Mom would ask Alana to pass the chocolate, the way Dad spent most of his time with Jeremy’s dad. Then Dad didn’t stay up to tell us scary stories. He hugged me, hugged Rudy, then went to bed without touching Mom at all.

We let the fire burn down to coals. Then I crawled off into my tent, dragging Rudy along with me to the tent next door. When I zipped my tent-flap closed, the last thing I saw was Mom still sitting by the fire, nose buried in her book.

The soft sound of sniffling woke me sometime in the night. For a minute I thought a bear was sniffing at our tent and my whole body went cold with fear, but then I recognized it: Rudy was crying. Again. I sat there and listened, hoping he’d wear himself out or maybe Mom would get up and deal with him, but after a few minutes, I could tell by the chorus of soft snoring that I was the only one awake.

I unzipped my tent and crawled into my brother’s, where he was curled into a miserable little ball in his sleeping bag.

I sat down cross-legged next to him, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“Relax, dude,” I said. “You’ve been crying all day.”

He only cried harder.

Sighing, I rolled over onto my side and bundled him up in a hug, resting one of my hands atop his head. I patted his hair the way Mom used to, telling him to shhh.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s okay. Just tell me what’s wrong. It’s okay.”

The longer I patted his head, the more I felt my annoyance throttle back and relax. I sat there, hugging him, and started to just feel… bad.

Through his sniffles, he murmured into his pillow, “Something’s wrong with Mom and Dad.”

My guts clenched up.

For some reason, I just thought he hadn’t noticed. Which… the longer I thought on that, the stupider I felt. Had I really thought that I was the only one clever enough to pick up on the signs? To notice our parents barely spoke to each other? Did I just assume that Rudy was too young? Too stupid?

I pulled him tight against my chest, suddenly overwhelmed by the need to let him know I was there, that I knew what he meant.

I had no idea what to say. I wanted to tell him everything would be okay. But I didn’t know that for sure.

“I’ve got you,” I murmured instead, hugging him tight.

“What’s gonna happen?” he whispered.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But… I’m here.”

I shivered, laying on the bare foam mattress, my sleeping bag forgotten in my own tent. I held my little brother until he finally drifted off, his face sticky with tears and snot. The longer I stayed with him, the more I felt strange little relaxations happen in my own body, too: my jaw unclenched. I breathed easier. And I could finally swallow the lump in my throat. How long had that been there?

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