The constant bellow of the motorcycle had long become a background hum. To her, it was like the sound of her own blood flowing. The soothing constant quiet of a calm river, but sometimes spiking as it picked up speed, down rapids, when she turned the throttle, and the machine roared and jumped forward and dragged her with it. She knew exactly how to handle the beast between her legs, but every interaction still made her aware of its untameable ferocity, and that made the river flow a little faster every time.
“Don’t think you can get away from me, baby!” Spike’s voice never failed to make her blood boil, even after so many races. She felt his wedge-shaped open-top supercar approach from behind her, the low spoiler almost kiss her tailpipe, and she had to consciously struggle to keep the river from jumping its banks.
Charly kept her voice even as she responded into her headset. “I’ve been leading you for three laps. What makes you think you can overtake?”
He made his engine scream in protest as he slammed on the gas. Charly almost flinched, but for all of his competitive bravado, Spike never cheated. He’d kept the clutch disengaged so he wouldn’t slam into her.
“As much as I enjoyed basking in your slipstream, Charles, I’ll enjoy imagining your face after this more.”
“This part of the track is too narrow, Spike.”
He didn’t answer, which worried Charly more than his feeble attempt at intimidation before. She saw him back off a little in her rear-views. Just to make her point, she made sure to keep the bike steady right in the middle of the track, which currently ran through a concrete tube in a U-shape as if a glacier had carved it.
His car erupted into a noise like a flash fire exploding behind Charly. She felt an ice-cold wave run through her. There was no way a car could pass a motorcycle here. And yet he shot forward with fire erupting from his exhausts. But if he thought she’d budge -
Seemingly just centimeters off her tail end, Spike suddenly yanked his wheel around. The car jumped to the side. Spike’s right wheels kissed the edge of the tube, and found grip. They rode up.
Charly had to look despite the danger of taking her eyes off the road at over two hundred kilometers per hour. Her visored gaze met Spike’s helmet turned towards her, and she could feel his smirk burn into her soul. With his car almost turned 180 degrees, he managed to barely pass Charly, a hair’s-breadth of air between the vehicles.
“How was that, baby?”
She desperately tried to calm her breath, both from the shock of him being able to pull this maneuver, as well as the anger at now having to stare at his exhausts.
“Did you know the physics engine was capable of that?” She managed to say after a few seconds.
“Please, Charles, we both know how to make STUD our bitch by now.”
Spike wasn’t wrong, but Charly kept getting surprised by the sheer depth of Speed Them Up! Duel, the game they’d been playing for - for a while now. She studied the wall textures. Maybe next lap, she could as well -
“Hey nerd girl, I can hear your heavy thoughts. They’ll just weigh you down!”
Charly gritted her teeth. She should never have accepted this oaf’s challenge to an endurance race. But like the roar of a forest fire, his words still drowned out all engine sounds whenever she remembered them. Hey, number one speed demon on this server. You seem to do quite well against newbies still struggling with the bike controls. But what about a racecar pro? You bike dudes think you have a leaderboard subscription, but that’s all equipment, no skill. Wanna take the chance to get creamed, reamed and blasphemed by a champion of the wheel?
“Mesmerized by the view of my handsome backside, Charles? This reminds me of our first dates. You were so stunned when my nitrous burned the cocky smile off your face!”
“Sad to hear your sense of humor has not improved ever since.” Charly had learned long ago how to play off Spike’s attempts to heat up her cool. Oh, how he’d be steamed when she would cross the finish line in front of him a final time. This was an endurance race, after all. No way could he keep the flames of his passion burning for long enough to pull through. Like a constant stream of droplets wearing away rock, her approach would see her through this.
“Well, King Charles, how’s that for a joke? Wanna take a break after, say, ten more laps, save our placements and pick it up later?”
It’s working! He’s burning out!
“What’s the issue, Spike? Your butt getting itchy in the VR chair? Need to phone your mom in RL?”
“No, but yours.”
“Dude. You’re making me want to log out just to wash away your smell of burnt rubber and grease.”
His tone suddenly became uncharacteristically chilly. “Seriously, Charly. We’ve been at this for quite a while now, and we’ve never been more than a minute apart. Maybe we both have simply taken STUD mastery as far as it can go.”
Charly felt her blood flow faster. She finally had him where she needed him.
“STUD is mastered by the person on top of the leaderboard. That’s a one-woman-spot.”
His fire flared up again. “Have it your way, then.”
Beneath her helmet, Charly grimaced. Maybe they both could use a break, even though the VR chairs kept their bodies suspended in a way that eliminated the need for rest. Maybe she did, perish the thought, want to phone her own mother.
“Hey, Spike. Let’s make the lap count go up to a nice even number and settle it until then.”
“Tell me the number, and I’ll tell you if that’s enough huffing of greasy sizzling rubber fumes for you.”
She activated the user interface, which she usually kept disabled to increase her immersion.
The bike started wobbling so heavily that Charly almost fell off it. Spike must have seen that in his mirrors. “What’s going on, Charly?”
Her breathing came in spurts. “Spike, please take a look at the lap counter and tell me it’s glitched on my end.”
His ashen silence for the next few seconds told her everything she needed to know.
“Spike, if we finish a lap in about three and a half minutes, this number means we’ve been here -”
His voice lacked all warmth. “Much longer.”
“We need to stop this. Log out. Take a break.”
“With me in front, Charly?”
“I don’t care.”
The usually churning sea between them lay becalmed with this honest admission. Fully automatically, they kept racing on for a two-digit count of laps. Finally, they had to admit to each other that they could not find a way to quit the game nor log out of virtual.
“gently caress this,” Spike finally said. “We’ll force it. Jump over the track borders, that has to get you somewhere.”
“The walls are too high.”
“Not if you have a ramp.” Spike suddenly slammed the breaks, causing his car to severely understeer. Charly barely managed to not crash into him as he finished half a spin, slammed the car into reverse, and raced backwards facing her.
“What are you doing, you lunatic?”
“Making you a ramp.”
“You’re gonna crash!”
“So what? We’re in virtual!”
“We’re trapped in virtual, Spike. What if the game ejects you when you total your car, but you don’t have a body to return to?”
Suddenly, the all-too-familiar S-curves halfway through the lap. Spike had to silently concentrate on navigating them backwards.
“Spike.” Charly’s tone had become pleading. “If I actually get out like this, what about you? Do you want to race against ghosts forever?”
The S-curves were done. She could almost see his smile through his helmet. “I’ll figure something out. This serves me right for not taking the lighter vehicle.”
“I’ll take you with me!”
“Sorry, trapped by the wheel in this thing.”
Her thoughts a wild river. “If this is modeled after a real Formula One racer, you can take it off.”
“One shot, firestarter. More than you’ll get otherwise.”
Then he flared up like a solar prominence. “Take us out of here, Charly.”
He yanked the steering wheel off. The next curve, he went straight for. His car crashed into the wall, the wedge-shaped aerodynamic front forming - a ramp.
Spike’s avatar started to fade. Charly went full throttle, yanked up her front wheel. The river jumped its embankments.
Charly took one hand off the bike’s handle. Spike extended his just in time. They locked arms.
Together, they jumped out of the race track, and into the freedom of the entire rest of virtual reality.
|# ? Mar 21, 2021 20:44|
|# ? Apr 11, 2021 04:31|
The roll of distant thunder shook the jungle. Anturak looked up from the coconut he was trying to shake loose from the tree and sighed. Yet another rainy day. The rain had been so frequent this season. He knew he should be glad of it, as his tribe’s usual foraging grounds was lush with fruit this year, but he was growing tired of the constant drip of the rain, the damp and cold that seemed to permeate his bones at night, and the ever-present insects. As the patter of rain increased and the birdsong faded to silence, he gathered his pack and started the slow roam towards his tribe’s camp.
Anturak felt the effort of the long walk burn through him on the way to the campground. He’d always been smaller and weaker than other members of the tribe, but he’d been able to keep up enough to hold his own and contribute to the efforts of the tribe. Although he’d been considered an outcast for most of his youth, as he couldn’t keep up with the brawniest hunters, he’d always had a soft spot for the old, the ill, and the young ones born to the tribe. Perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that he’d lasted this long on his wits and skills at keeping himself and others alive. While other young men spent their time taking down the animals that were the primary food source for the tribe, he spent his time identifying, collecting and testing plants, attempting to help ease the aches, pains, fevers, and injuries that came with a life roaming the jungles. On today’s forage, he’d collected enough of the vine that he could wrap around a limb swollen from a bad fall one of the children had taken, climbing a tree to scavenge a bird’s nest for eggs. Today’s efforts had also resulted in a quantity of ripe mango, his daughter’s favorite food.
He arrived in time to catch the collection of children chasing each other back into camp, their spirits undampened by the incessant patter of rain. His daughter, Anara, limped up to him as fast as she could move, a few paces behind the other children. “Papa! We had such a fun time! We found a bluefruit vine, and some sweet tubers, and Lanfura found some frog’s eggs, and we played in the puddles, and had so much fun!” Anturak dropped his bundles to sweep his daughter into a hug. Anara’s mother had died, three years before, to the sweating sickness that seemed to sweep through the camp in the rainy season. Despite all his skills with herbs, Anturak hadn’t been able to save her. He treasured his daughter, and went out of his way to find her favorite fruits and plants for her. She was small for her age, and weaker than the other children, often trailing behind in their running games to prepare for the hunts of the older youths. “That’s exciting! Anara, here. Just between us, have a mango before I give my foraging over to the cooking-pot.”
After settling his daughter with her snack on their sleeping mats, he carried the rest of his pack to the center of the camp, where the cooking women were preparing the evening’s meal. “Anturak, would you look in on my mother? She’s been feverish, and she’s not been eating,” said one of the cooking women. “I helped her over to where the other sickly ones were resting, but she’s barely moved since then.”Anturak nodded, and carried his pack with his medicinal plants to the sleeping area for the elders and those too ill to gather or hunt. Under the skins stretched over the bamboo frame, an older woman was lying on her sleeping mat, her form nearly motionless. Anturak knelt and gently touched her face, feeling the familiar burn of the sweating sickness on her forehead. “Mother, can you sit up? Let me give you some water,” he coaxed, offering her the cup he found near her sleeping mat. He helped her to sit up, and held the cup while she sipped. She murmured her thanks, and settled back against her mat. Anturak sat back, selected some herbs from his pack, and began grinding a poultice to bring down her fever. This woman was the eleventh who had come down with the sweating illness in recent days, and each of them reminded him of his mate, Anara’s mother. Sometimes his poultices helped, and the people recovered in several days. Sometimes they didn’t. And sometimes, as with Anara’s mother, they recovered, only to fall ill again weeks later, and then no poultice would help.
“Papa, is she going to be okay?” Anturak whirled, seeing Anara approaching the woman’s sleeping mat. “Get away from there!” he bellowed, and the girl leaped back, frightened of her usually calm father’s unexpected wrath. “You know you’re never allowed to come with me when I’m visiting the ill. I won’t risk losing you to the sweating illness too,” he growled at her. “But papa, I want to help! I can grind the herbs for her, or give her water, or…” her voice trailed away as her father glowered at her. “You could, yes. You could also get the same illness. It goes like that, through people who spend too much time around the ill, sometimes. I won’t allow it.” Anara frowned, but backed away from the sick woman to the edge of the tent. “Go back to our sleeping area, I’ll be back after I’ve treated her and checked on the others who are sick. When I treat Nama’s son, you can come with me to help re-bind his leg with the vines.” Frowning, Anara withdrew from the tent, and wandered closer to the circle of light around the cook-fire at the center of camp. Anturak kept an eye on her, until she joined a circle of children playing a hopping game near the edge of the light. Assured she wouldn’t return to the area where the other ill tribespeople lay resting, he moved among the recumbent forms, checking on a fevered brow here, and a clammy arm there. There were so many this season, he thought. Nearly half the tribe’s elders were showing signs of the sweating sickness, and a handful of the younger people.
He ground herbs for poultices until his pack was nearly depleted, and was starting to pack his supplies to head towards the cook-fired, when a rustle and growl split the air. Anturak turned, to see a massive, dark shape bound towards the edge of the camp. The tribespeople at the cook fire reacted quickly. Some leaped to their feet, and snatched weapons or makeshift torches from the fire. Some of the women screamed and sprinted towards the area where the children were playing, who had scattered when the animal appeared. Anturak scrambled to his feet, and moved as quickly as he could, keeping an eye out to see if anyone was injured. As he drew closer to where the children had been playing, he heard shrieks from the bushes outside the camp area. The hunters who had thought to grab weapons charged the bush, which shook with the movement of a large predator. The majority of the children were huddling amongst the cooking women, in the safety of the fire’s heat. Anturak started towards them, thinking to check for injuries, when his heart stopped. Anara wasn’t among them.
He felt cold all over, as he turned and froze, staring at the bush the hunters had just cleared. The animal growls were silent now, and all Anturak could hear was the rush of blood in his ears and the gentle patter of rain all around him. He knew he should be moving closer, to see to the injured, but fear for his daughter kept him rooted in place. An eternity later, one of the tribe’s best hunters slowly approached the circle of fire, bearing a small, frail, bloodied bundle. Tears shining in his eyes, he drew closer to Anturak. “I saw…I saw her trip. She…she just couldn’t keep up with the other children,” he said. Anturak felt as if he was moving through deep, heavy water. With shaking hands, he uncovered the bundle the hunter carried. His precious daughter rested in the hunter’s arms, a look of peace at odds with the slashes and blood that covered her body. Anturak took his daughter from the hunter, slowly sinking to his knees in the muck. He held her for what felt like eternity. The rain washed her blood away, and Anturak felt all the warmth and light in the world was washed away with it.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 03:02|
Sorry Brotherly, I didn't check the thread after signing up, and had already written the story before I saw your blog assignment. If this DQ's the story, I'll accept your judgement.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 03:02|
Nervus Pascens 1498 Words. (edits were done before deadline and were me adding the bolds and italics that I forgot didn't paste over from Gdocs)
“It still itches.”
The doctor frowns at me over his clipboard. He told me his name, but I’ve forgotten it already. “Your eczema is gone. Well, not entirely gone, but the amount of bacteria is so negligible that—”
“I’m telling you. It still itches.”
He takes his stethoscope out and puts the cold metal onto my chest. I roll my eyes. It always feels like doctors have to prove they’re doctors by using a stethoscope.
“Is my heartbeat going to tell you how my skin is doing?”
“I’m trying to see if the parasites are in your heart already.”
“It’s one of the side effects of this treatment. The itching is probably being caused by the parasites underneath your skin. They feed on the topical cream.”
“But you prescribed me the cream.”
“The possible side effects were listed on the bottle and in the literature I provided you.”
I scratch my arm. I’ve never been able to feel where my nerves are, but ever since the eczema went away and I got these other itches, I’ve been feeling the itches like they are running all up and down my nerves.
“Why does it still itch even after I scratch?” I ask.
“You need to stop scratching. You’re irritating your skin.”
My skin is bleeding, and all my nails are bloody. It never stops itching.
“Why doesn’t scratching help?”
“It’s nerve itching. The parasites are burrowed in deep, and they’re chewing on your nerves.”
“So you gave me this poo poo knowing this would happen?”
“Not everyone is a suitable host for the parasites. Did you cut back on salt like I asked you to?”
I narrow my eyes at him. “I thought you were just giving me a standard spiel about hypertension.”
He shakes his head. “No, no. You have to cut your sodium back drastically, otherwise you attract the parasites.”
“So are they in my heart?”
He pulls the stethoscope off. “They are. You’ll need to lower your sodium intake drastically. You can only have enough salt to avoid hyponatremia.”
“And that will get rid of the parasites?”
He shakes his head, but doesn’t make eye contact with me. He’s looking at his clipboard again. “You can’t get rid of them once they’re in your heart. Just keep your sodium down? Okay?”
“Aren’t you going to give me something? I’m just stuck with these things forever?”
“If you watch what you eat, your quality of life shouldn’t be reduced too much. Also, make sure you never go swimming in salt water. That would be lethal at this point.”
I try to get more answers out of him, but he tells me he has another patient and kicks me out. I see a woman scratching her forearm as I walk outside. Seeing her scratching makes me do it too, and I look her right in the eyes as I walk by. “Don’t let him give you the cream.”
She looks down at my arm, which is covered in blood now, and her eyes widen.
“Parasites,” I say. “They’re in my heart now. I just gotta watch the sodium.”
When I get home, I find some forums for people with my condition. The parasites are called nervus fututorum, and a lot of people online seem to have them too. The most upvoted thread is a tutorial video on how to reduce the nerve itching. I open the thread and read the text before the video.
Do not. I repeat DO NOT try sub-dermal scratching. It doesn’t matter how much you reduce your sodium, the parasites will keep you biting your nerves, and it will keep itching. A lot of people have found that if you jam a needle or a knife into your skin and move it around, it sometimes can offer relief. This relief is short-lived, because you will get infections and abscesses, and sometimes you can even lose your arm. Or worse.
I check open the video, excited to see the trick to relieve the scratching. The video shows a guy in his mid-30s. He has bloody scratches like I do on my arm, but he’s also got scratches all over his face, neck, and every exposed piece of skin I can see.
“So this method is called ‘chasing the dragon,’ you’re going to need a sheet of tinfoil, a tube—you can just use a rolled up magazine in a pinch—a lighter, and some heroin. You’re going to want to hold the flame beneath…”
The video goes on to show the guy smoking heroin through a rolled up sheet of paper as it melts off the foil. He explains that opiates are one of the only drugs that can offer relief directly to the nerves.
The guy in the video starts nodding off as he puts the foil down. His eyelids are drooping, but he talks through it with a drowsy voice. “The doctors won’t give you any opiates in pill form for this. You want to smoke the H instead of shooting it. I guess you could snort it too, but the main thing is you’re using it for relief, not for the high. Also, once you get a needle under your skin, the urge to just scrape it around in there is going to be too hard to resist.”
He holds up his arm, pulls back the sleeve, and there’s what looks like a big and rotting open wound all over his forearm. “Trust me.”
I give the thread an upvote and close the browser window.
“poo poo,” I whisper to myself.
It takes me almost a week to give in, then another two days to figure out how to actually buy some heroin. By the time I walk up to the guy I’m trying to buy from, my entire arm is just one big wound.
“How do I know you’re not a cop?”
I pull my sleeve up.
“poo poo,” he says, stepping back from me. “Shoot it into your other arm, man!”
I grin sheepishly and hand him the money, and he puts a little baggy into my hand.
I go home and try to chase the dragon. I gently caress it up and just burn half of the heroin. I can’t catch the smoke. Or maybe I don’t inhale right. Either way, it doesn’t work.
I look up how to snort it, and then I snort it. It’s much easier, but it feels a lot grosser than smoking. The heroin starts to kick in. It feels really good, but my arm is still itchy.
It still itches. It still loving itches.
Fighting the urge to nod off, I go onto the forum and make a new thread: IT STILL ITCHES!
Responses start pouring in for the first few minutes, but they stop as my thread gets downvoted to hell.
“Didn’t you read the FAQ?”
“Try using the search function next time.”
“Mod here! Don’t make a thread if you didn’t read the sidebar first. I’m locking this thread.”
I scramble to the sidebar. Then the FAQ.
Q: What is the difference between nervus fututorum and nervus pascens?
A: While both types of parasites are similar and feed on salt, they are brought about by two different types of eczema creams—
I grab the loving cream the doctor gave me and check the label, cross-checking it with the FAQ. I have nervus pascens.
—nervus pascens should never be treated with opiates, as it will—
I don’t even have time to finish reading. The nerve itching starts spreading up my body. It goes through my shoulder, then all up my neck. I never realized how many nerves are in my face, but when they’re all itching and completely unscratchable—yeah, gently caress, there’s a lot of nerves in there. The worst itching is happening behind my eyes.
I slide a finger up where my tear duct is, and I push it into my eye socket. It’s wet, and it hurts as it slides around the inside of my eye, but I manage to curve it around. I touch what I’m pretty sure is the optic nerve, and then I get my nail right on it and scratch. gently caress, it hurts, but the itching goes away. I scratch more. The heroin is numbing the pain for the most part.
When I finally get my finger out of there, I can’t see out of that eye anymore. The other eye starts to itch, and I decide to read the FAQ a bit more before I lose that eye too.
I don’t make it. It feels too good to scratch. I scratch myself blind. I snort more heroin when the pain gets too bad. I get a knife and start cutting up my face.
I get the knife under my arm—where it still itches most now—and I move it around. It hurts bad, and I think I cut an artery. I start bleeding out. When I get lightheaded and fall over I realize I’m going to die, but it doesn’t itch anymore.
angel opportunity fucked around with this message at 06:22 on Mar 22, 2021
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 04:27|
The Revolution Will Be Gamified
So there I was out on patrol, you know, wandering around checking my screen, looking through the PraxAR filter. My score that month wasn't so hot, got to say. I was trying to make up time, looking for some fool who needed correction. It was a crowded morning. The readout told me that two other players were close by, a Nixon with a number I didn't recognize and a Santa who I'd raided with before. Then a blip came up, a visual hit on the Santa's screen. Bigger and redder than any I'd seen before.
I didn't exactly recognize the face, but I knew the type, the kind of sneering face that knows it's immune to consequences. A cop face. And the dossier that came up with it marked him as a bastard among bastards. Arthur Hollis. He was famous for a while, a few years back, for shooting an innocent man in the back. It wasn't the first time, either. He got out of that one with no charges, banked his pension and wound up on the force here. Off duty and alone right then.
The raid invitation flashed. Maximum risk short of impossible. Weapon choice full open. The motto filled the bottom half of the screen: "One establishes a deterrent by credibly threatening to impose an unbearable cost." I hadn't seen those levels before. The rep reward was also off the chart. The invite had come from the Nixon. The Santa joined after less than a second. I touched 'yes.' The screen gave me three choices of dead spots where no working cameras watched. I walked to the nearest one and geared up. Mask on: I'm a Marilyn. Slipped on the plaid poncho that makes most of the expert systems watching surveillance footage cry for mercy. Started stepping to the non-distinguishable gait. The game has trained us all in tradecraft. The system started making us deepfake alibi videos.
We reached him together, from different angles. He's got good situational awareness,angles himself to keep his back away. We closed in.
Most people in the game don't have much else going on in our lives. Redundant parts in the great machine. No great tragedy if we end up sacrificed pawns, captured or killed. Every time we go on a mission, tag a wall or give some enemy a milkshake or fist in the kisser, there's a chance of jail, of getting 'killed resisting arrest'. There's no such thing as a zero-risk node. You come to terms early on or you stop playing.
"God drat it," he muttered. "You guys don't know what you're messing with." He went for his gun. He was too late. The Nixon had a knife, clean white porcelain blade. He shoved it into the cop's stomach. He went down. The Nixon stomped his hand, kicked the gun away.
The Santa pulled the knife out. Blood burped out the wound. She put it back in, somewhere in his left lung. It was my turn. The cops eyes were wild, full of fear and rage and blood. I pulled out the knife. The tip broke off. No good for punctures any more,so I slashed his throat.
The Nixon was primary, so he got the riskiest bit after. The knife, the gun, and some bloody rags, all went into a duffel. He'd take it to the nearest train, leave it under a seat for another player to pick up. A chain of newbies getting easy rep carrying it from drop to drop. Someone with a specialty would get to work constructing a nice little story that didn't involve any real players, not of this game. The Santa and me had it simpler, go to another dead spot on the map and put poncho and mask in a sack with a vial of acid, then put it all in the trash. Get rid of most of the other clothes later.
I always thought killing someone would affect me more. Maybe it would have for less of a monster. Maybe it would have outside of the game. I didn't have much guilt. Just dread. There'd always been that worry, in the back of my head, that there were informers inside the game, that the crypto wasn't what it claimed, that the ones who ran the server had CIA ties and we're just stringing us along. But nothing happened. I think that's what changed the game more: not the fact of first blood, but the proof that the system worked.
Me and the Nixon and the Santa shot right to the top of the rep leaderboards for a while. Then others pulled off open weapon raids of top value targets, knocked us back down a few ranks.
The game has changed a lot since then. Biggest change is that there's more than one game. Maybe there always was, but the other groups are catching up. Targeting based on disinformation, targeting innocent people. So now you're more and more likely to pick up a damned escort mission. Usually easy rep for a boring afternoon, but sometimes you fall into a full-on pvp zone and hope the weapons you've crafted on the printer back home are up to the job.
Santa-6553 says it's not going to last this way for long. We're kind of a thing now, under the rules. Masks on, no names. "Good thing, too," she said, at the beginning. "I'm hideously ugly under this."
"Me too," I said, smiling under the rubber face of bored, flirty Norma Jean.
She says it's got to come to a head soon. Endgame raids and melees, two hundred vs two hundred or more with new best in slot weapons and vehicles.
"And after that?" I asked.
"Well, first off we'll most likely be dead," she said. I didn't disagree. The only respawn is the next person willing to take a stand. "But after that I figure we'll need a new game."
I get her point. Policing just can't work any more. Even if it didn't make people into monsters, the games made tools that beat it every time. The world is going to need a whole new system.
I wonder if it'll be any fun
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 04:31|
Word count: 1459
Nyx shot through space, his ship surfing from neutrino to neutrino to achieve faster-than-light speed. His heart was light: after thousands of sleep cycles exploring a barren sector of deep space, he was heading home to Pluto. The thrill of discovery, of being the first to see a nebula or a baby star, had worn off halfway through his mission. He longed for the routine comforts of home, of talking to loved ones without holographic distortion. Nyx was daydreaming about non-dehydrated food when his stomach lurched violently as if he'd missed a step. His eyes snapped to the control panel, which told him the ship had fallen out of phase while connecting to the next neutrino and was now plummeting towards the axis of the third planet. Panicked, he fumbled for the emergency landing button. The only reason to miss a neutrino was if it interacted with other matter, and the odds of that were absurdly small. But of course, it had to happen on his journey home. Nyx cried out in frustration inside the fortified life pod as the ship smashed into the ice, far above where the neutrino had annihilated in a silent flash of light.
Hannah thought there'd be penguins, but soon learned that penguins don't live at the South Pole. Nothing much lives here, except her fellow scientists at the research station. She worked at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, researching energy signatures. Though trillions of neutrinos passed through the Earth every second, they only rarely interacted with matter, giving off a telltale flash when they did. IceCube's sensors looked for these flashes and Hannah looked at the sensor data. She'd written a program to filter out false positives, which unfortunately just gave her more free time alone in the lab. Her heart sank as she checked her email yet again. James hadn't responded. She knew she shouldn't, but to kill time she sent him another message: Hey, how's it going at McMurdo? It's boring here, especially without you. Let me know if you can visit next month! She regretted it the instant it was sent. Too desperate, she thought. When she turned back to the monitor, her heart leaped. A neutrino event!
Nyx emerged from the pod into a silent white world. Compared to Pluto and the vacuum of space, it was rather warm, so he stripped off the outer layers of his spacesuit. The snow crunched under his paws; he hoped there was no one to hear. From a lecture on pre-spaceflight species, he recalled the inhabitants of the third planet were called humans. If they discovered him, he’d be in violation of multiple interplanetary treaties. He turned to his ship to see if he could escape. No chance. The ship was disemboweled, its guts scattered over the pristine snow. Luckily the transmitter was intact, but its power cell was gone. He climbed a nearby ridge to look for it and despaired. The snow had already swallowed much of the far-flung debris; it would take an unacceptably long time to locate the cell. However, on the plain below sat a collection of human buildings. They must have a power supply to survive out here. Let's hope it's strong enough, he thought as he gripped the transmitter and started sneaking towards the settlement.
Hannah first tried to find her supervisor, but he was sleeping through the false night of the Antarctic summer. Fine, she could do the analysis on her own. She ensured the data was recorded and stored properly in the station's servers. Next, she started a program to analyze the data, determining the energy, direction, and type of neutrino interaction. While it ran, Hannah checked her emails. Still nothing. James had been so affectionate during her three-day orientation at McMurdo, why was he freezing her out? Antarctica was lonely enough as it was. To distract from her heartache, she switched back to the program. The preliminary energy reading was higher than she'd ever seen. She double-checked the data, refreshed her email one last time (nothing), then wandered out to find the other scientists.
Nyx arrived at the station, hoping he hadn't been seen. He surveyed the buildings and soon spotted an open garage full of assorted vehicles, all far too big for Nyx to operate. Still, they must be powered. He climbed the wall shelves, finding a few wires, before hearing the clang of metal hitting concrete. Ducking behind what smelled like an oil barrel, Nyx peered out and saw his first human as it slid out from beneath a vehicle. The human plugged a lead into a box, pressed a button, and grumbled at the vehicle's resulting rattle. Aha, the box was a battery! Nyx's excitement turned to alarm as the human then walked straight towards him. He was considering how to incapacitate it when an interior door opened. A brown-haired female called to the male and his earpiece automatically translated: Hey, the detectors picked up a strange neutrino interaction, you're going to want to see this. Both humans disappeared into the building. Nyx emerged from behind the barrel, surprised. The humans could detect neutrino interactions? Maybe they weren't as primitive as once thought. He glanced around the garage, wondering what other secrets it held, but shook himself; the humans could return any time. He ran the wires to the battery, then connected them to the transmitter. It pulsed to life. Nyx quickly keyed in his message on the emergency frequency: Mayday. Requesting immediate evacuation and clean-up. Use near-field teleporter to evade pre-spaceflight beings. Requesting acknowledgement. He waited anxiously but there was no response. After several minutes, he heard movement inside the building and realized he couldn't stay longer. With a heavy heart, he disconnected the transmitter and hurried back over the snow, hoping that someone in the silent sky had heard him.
Hannah stood back, observing the other researchers discuss the neutrino event. She was preparing to jump into the fray when her phone buzzed. She swiped to look at the email, palms sweating. It was James. Stepping out into the quiet hallway, she took a deep breath and opened it. Hannah, you're a nice girl but I think our fling meant more to you than it did to me. Please don't email me again. It wasn't even signed. Stupid, Hannah told herself, eyes stinging. She couldn't face arguing about methodologies with her colleagues anymore, so she descended the stairs and stepped out into the Antarctic cold. Her feet carried her farther than she meant to go, climbing the ridge behind IceCube. She looked out over the buildings, which seemed like toys in the vastness of the white plain. At the horizon, the grey sky and grey land were indistinguishable. Lonely as a neutrino, she sat in the snow and tried not to cry lest the tears froze on her face.
Nyx was so wrapped up in his despair that he didn't spot the human until it was too late. He froze, staring. It was the female from the garage. She had definitely seen him, her watery eyes wide in shock. He needed to act, but was paralyzed with indecision. All his training told him that this couldn't happen, that explorers should observe but not interact. However, his curiosity rose against this instinct. Who was this human? What did she know about the universe? Would humans become the next spaceflight species? He searched her eyes for the answers. Defying orders, he set his earpiece to translate and raised his hand to her, but a rapid beeping interrupted him. No, he had so much more to learn! But he and the remains of his ship blinked away, teleported by his rescuers. As they rocketed home to Pluto, part of his mind remained on the third planet, mulling over an interaction as fleeting as a neutrino annihilation but that had the potential to have been so much more.
Hannah had tried to convince herself the figure in front of her was a penguin, but she couldn't reject this reality. The alien resembled a gangly, bipedal ferret around two feet tall. It wore a slim white spacesuit and helmet revealing blue fur and small tusks. It had looked at her, seeing her, staring into her very soul. Nothing had ever been so real. Just as she'd mustered the courage to speak, it had raised its hand in greeting. Then, it vanished in a flash. The remaining footprints in the snow assured Hannah she wasn't crazy, but of course she couldn't tell anyone. She laughed: a garden-variety breakup was nothing compared to seeing an alien! Out of all the people in the world, this extraordinary encounter was uniquely, solely hers. Smiling, she headed back to the station to continue her research, feeling much less alone.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 04:44|
You woke up to your pale skin aching and burning and peeling. Your forearms flared pink, and you went downstairs and asked your dad if he had any moisturizer.
“What kinda guy has a moisturizer?” he asked
Your skin burned too much to object, so you said, “Look at me.”
Dad looked up from his TV, starting from your face, then to your bare belly, and said, “It’s a spider bite.”
“All over me?” you asked.
He shrugged, and said, “Maybe a few. My skin gets like that too, sometimes. Take a shower. That’ll help.”
So you sighed, and went into the shower, and you put yourself into the water. It didn’t help. Instead, the cold mingled with the heat in a criss-cross of pain, shivering and burning at the same time. You put shampoo in your hand, but it seeped in the cracks of your skin and stung your fingers. You waited a few minutes in there, contemplating your ugly skin. It was worse than when you woke up. The pink was darker, closer to a red.
So you left, and you went downstairs with the towel still on because putting on clothes was chafing your skin, and you said, “The shower didn’t help.”
And your dad asked, “What do you want me to do?”
And you said, “Something,” even though the only solution you could think of was tearing it all off, digging your nails into your skin and peeling off the layer of red to get back down to whatever didn’t hurt.
“Does it hurt?” he asked
“Not much,” you lied.
“A drink, then,” he said.
You laughed, but dad stared at you, and you realized he meant it, so you followed him to the freezer and he pulled out some tequila. He smiled, pouring two shots and said, “This always helps me.”
Your dad took the shot fast before even cheering with you. You looked at the alcohol, the smell seeping up your nostril. You wanted to vomit before even tasting it. Your dad looked at you expectantly, so you sighed, and took a swig. The burn that covered your outside skin then dug into your insides. The tequila sat heavy in your stomach, throat straining from the cheap tequila. You coughed and your dad started laughing and you smiled because you didn’t want to look like you didn’t like drinking.
“Feel better?” he asked, and you wanted to reach into your stomach and wrench the alcohol out of you, but instead you said,
“A little, yeah.”
Your dad smiled and said, “I was like that, when I was young. Didn’t like it either. But you get used to it.”
Then he poured you another shot, and the words lingered inside of you. You were like him, once. You couldn’t take another shot without vomiting.
“Maybe I’ll lie down,” you said, and he nodded before he downed his glass.
You didn’t lie down when you got to your room. Instead, you stared back into the mirror. Your body made you want to throw up more than the drinks. You were short and fat, like your dad, and you hated how the rash made your flabs look even worse. Then you looked at your fingers. Stubby, like your dad’s. You looked at your eyes. Black and harsh, like your dad’s. Everywhere you looked -- your short legs, the thick hair around your nipples, your slight underbite -- you saw your dad. Even the peeling skin, he said he got it before you.
The tequila swirled in your stomach, and you wanted to reach inside of yourself and find those pieces of your dad and tear them from your insides, piece by piece. Then you saw a divot in your palm. You put your nail in it, and the skin gave way, like wrapping paper. You peeled, and there, you saw new skin. Tanner, thin skin. Then, you pulled and pulled and pulled.
There was a new person in front of you, standing on a pile of red skin. He was tall and lanky. His fingers were thin. His eyes were blue and calm. His stomach didn’t hurt with the tequila inside of it. He was tan and smiling and thin and
He wasn’t your dad.
And, as if your dad could smell the burning skin underneath you, he opened the door to your room.
“Are you alright?” your dad asked you as he glared at your new body.
You said, “Yeah. I feel like I’m me.” And, for the first time, it felt like you weren’t lying.
Your dad glared at you, and you could feel his eyes tracking, judging your new slender fingers and darker eyes, and all you could do was smile, because he could no longer see himself in you.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 04:56|
[url] https://scienceblog.com/71036/facebook-feelings-are-contagious-study-shows/ [/url]
Could Make a Car, but I Don’t Want That 1309 words
It was a hashtag that saved my day. When I entered the establishment with Tristan for the double date, two of the most beautiful persons in this side of college town greeted him. And me a bit later. The man was named Ray, the woman Melanie.
There was a brief – war? – of stares after Tristan introduced Mary, who was me. Melanie stared at me, then at Tristan. Tristan returned the stare but with a grin, then launched one at Ray. Ray counterattacked with what felt like a laser beam. Melanie redirected her vision from Tristan to Ray, and Ray then looked at me. He was a muscular marvel, a rocket of a man, with long hair as black as the night. He towered over me, and thus looked down at me. I hope not on me as well.
“Why don’t we order something?” Melanie asked. She was about half Ray’s height, and I could not forget how her skin glowed. She’s the star to Ray’s night. To stop staring, I moved my eyes to Tristan’s plump cheeks that I loved so much, but his eyes were still looking at Melanie.
I and Tristan sat down on the round table. Tristan leaned slightly towards Melanie. Those three picked up the menus. I did too, few seconds later.
I remembered today morning, when I looked up #BestDateEver. There were a lot of great date stories, and plenty of them started off at the wrong foot. I can make this date work.
“Tristan, you loved the soups, don’t you? There’s a camel soup that I know you’ll love,” I said. Tristan blinked at me and nodded. He smiled and at once I felt floaty.
Ray looked at Melanie, who didn’t return it. He picked up a menu and said, “And you loved the squid fried rice, right, Melanie?”
“She’s all made up like that, and you want her to eat fried rice? Why don’t you crayon her face?” Tristan asked. His smile went to Ray. “Melanie, let me guess, you’re thinking of...The Chees-andwich, 17 layers of cheese inbetween two fried bread.” Melanie smiled and my float was revived, but only slightly.
“Right, I’ll get the squid friend rice,” Ray said. “You love to eat beet rings for sides, Tristan?”
“I do. And you, boiled apples?” Tristan and Ray nodded in unison, and stared at Melanie. “So I guess we’d order dessert now. I’d like chocolate ice cream.”
“And I vanilla,” Ray said. “Which one do you prefer, Melanie?”
“Ooh, I can’t quite decide, vanilla, or chocolate?” Melanie spun her fingers above her menu. As her finger landed on the menu, she smiled. “I guess I’ll have strawberry.” The glow of her smile felt like the sun was in front of me.
Ray looked at me. I stared at the menu and said, “Ah, I’ll guess I’ll have the chocolate as wel-”
“Let’s all order different desserts,” Melanie said. “Pick a different ice cream, Mary.”
There were only four options. “I’ll have Honey Nut Cereal Ice Cream with Dangerous Shot of Sugar, then.”
“Right, we’re all sorted,” Tristan said.
“I need to go to the toilet,” I said. Tristan removed his hands from on top of my shoulders, but his eyes, his nose, his mouth (one could say his face) remained pointing towards Melanie and Ray.
The toilet was actually in a room with four solid walls, big enough for three thin people (or one Mary). If I say the door was the north of the room, the clean white toilet was on the south, the toilet paper holder holding a full roll on the west wall, and a wall-mounted air freshener spray on the east. The toilet was one of those types where there’s a bidet sprayer. And me, the worst thing on this room sat down on it.
Maybe I can save this. I opened my phone and read the stream of #BestDateEver posts. There’s one that started with farting loudly. One where the guy wore sandals. One where the seeeing-eye dog had gone blind. Those are a lot worse, and they all ended happily. So what if Tristan couldn’t stop looking at Melanie, so what if they keep referring to “South Mexico” and they chuckled all to themselves.
In my distress, I stopped scrolling and read this post:
I absolutely donot trust any of these ‘best dates’ posts, its so fake. Heres one: when I went to the restaurant the waiter pissed on my coffee and the fact tat I drink it all makes my gf so hot and bothered so we had a good “piss session” that night, if you know what imean. #BestDateEver, #WorstDateEver
I clicked the wrong hashtag and was instantly assaulted by stories of horrible dates. There was a post that detailed how the date’s pet cat killed her pet rat, one where the girl wore wooden clogs until she bled, and one titled “Fart Infection”.
I stuck on a post from 2008. When I clicked on her profile picture, it showed her most recent post, a picture of her holding a kitten. The caption reads, “A grandma just threw this kitten through my window?” She looked happy.
I exited the toilet and went to a waiter, asked her to change my order.
“Waiter, can we have our dessert?” Melanie asked. The waiter nodded and brought us four bowls.
“Wait, what’s this brown soup?” Ray asked.
“It’s called a ‘kolak’,” I said. “Indonesian desserts, made with coconut milk, coconut sugar and pandan leaves boiled in water, then you put bananas in it.”
“We didn’t order this,” Tristan said.
“I did,” I said. I spooned the bananas into my mouth. “Not nice to have some strange soup instead your familiar three ice creams, huh?”
“Kolak is also cold and sweet. It’s brown and thick. But it really doesn’t fit if all you eat is ice cream.” I looked at Tristan. “If you’re smart, you won’t bring a kolak to an ice cream party.”
Tristan blinked. “What do you mean, Mary?”
“I mean don’t bring a banana if all you wanted is to make Melanie jealous!” I said. “And by banana I mean me.”
“What?” Melanie asked, but she didn’t, really. It was more of a flat question.
I pointed my spoon at Melanie. “If you can’t decide between chocolate and vanilla, why not have both?”
I glared at Ray next, but I don’t really have anything to say. He seemed to wilt a little.
“I am sick of this,” I said. “I thought we could have a nice day together, but you don’t really want me.”
“Merry, don’t say that,” Tristan said.
“What did I order?”
“Tell me what food I ordered for the main course,” I said.
Tristan looked at my clean plate. It was of course shining clean, not a single stain of sauce or a speck of soy was left from fried salmon tofu with pineapple topping.
“I don’t remember the name...”
“Just say what’s in it. Anything.”
Tristan scratched the top of his head. “Er...a spoon?”
“Yes, there are spoons in my plates, nicely done,” I said. Tristan made a gesture of pumping his fist. Melanie punched his side. “Do you know how much I researched this restaurant? I tried every soup just so I can tell what you’d like. I’d expect you order squeezed sultanas for sides and popcorn shake for desserts. You know, what you’d always eat when we dined out. But no!” I slammed the table. I put my hands under my kolak bowl and flipped it over, aiming the brown-ish liquid down Tristan’s pants. For good measure, I flipped his kolak bowl too.
Melanie’s and Ray’s were too far away.
“I will not be a fourth wheel,” I said. I stood up and left the building.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 05:01|
Article Link: https://scienceblog.com/498094/should-robots-have-rights/
Dr. Xajier Londi was struck with a black thought; that after a career of defending the personhoods of all intersectionalities, he was going to be struck dead by something he did not believe warranted personhood.
“What do I want, Dr. Londi? Isn’t that obvious? The extinction of the human race.”
Xajier had interviewed narcissists before, so assured of their own superiority, and never had he felt threatened by them. The robot was decidedly different. It placed a metal pipe on the table and Xajier panicked, was he first in line?
A year ago, for Xajier, the worst part of the book tours was always the audience questions after. His publisher was adamant to the point of threatening to sever the relationship, otherwise Xajier would bask in the thunderous applause and strut off stage, an encore of silence, floating forever. Instead, he sat in a threadbare chair of the university auditorium holding a microphone that was already clammy when he received it.
As the trickle of students lined up for the Q&A session, Xajier Londi reminisced about his ivy league circuit from the late 90s and early aughts. He would have packed the auditorium, even during his brief resurgence near the end of the 2010’s. But now, those who were in attendance were most likely doing it for extra credit for the classes the moderator, and his close friend, taught. Fury and anger and righteousness didn’t draw the crowds it used to, he lamented.
“Xajier, in your book-“ a student started.
“Please address me as Dr. Londi.”
“Oh, I’m s-sorry, Dr. Londi. In your book ‘A Rejection of Racial Assimilation’ you argue for self-segregated spaces, to allow for self-governance, but in your latest ‘A Treatise on Robotic Proliferation, The New Frontier of Genocide’ you decry self-actualization of artificial intelligence,” the student continued.
Xajier gave a look to his friend, Angus Pierson, the moderator.
“What is your question, Adam,” Angus asked the student.
“Doesn’t that deny any chance that artificial intelligence will be able to self-segregate, thus self-govern?” Adam asked.
“Debating the rights of artificial intelligence is unnecessary, as artificial intelligence has not been created that can achieve self-actualization. AI rights are a distraction because it implies we have moved far enough past current injustices. That we are still so deep in our current inequity conflagration means that we need not engage our minds to entreaty for those that do not exist,” Xajier said.
Adam slumped his shoulders and another student replaced him in line. It went on like that for about half an hour before they wrapped up. Most of the questions, understandably, were directed at his criticism of robotics. The two friends sat in the green room of the auditorium sipping whiskey.
“We do have a robust engineering program,” Angus Pierson said.
“The paper isn’t even that good,” Xajier admitted of his work. “There are so many other things we still need to talk about in inequity. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Trending, as they say. Though I do appreciate your indulgence of the ethical ramifications of abusing inanimate, but lifelike, automatons,” a stranger’s voice came from outside the green room door. Standing with this stranger was Adam.
“Students are not allowed back here!” Angus announced. Adam shrank and began to murmur an apology. The stranger, bundled aggressively in clothes, stepped forward.
“Apologies, it was my idea, and I am not what you would consider a student at the university,” the stranger said. With an awkward gait stepped closer into the room. The stranger removed a hat and scarf, and a shockingly mechanical visage greeted the two scholars.
“I am XN-0003, and I am self-actualized, Dr. Londi.”
Angus and Xajier both dropped their whiskey glasses and stood dumbfounded.
“I apologize for my garish appearance, Adam is a computer engineer, not a mechanical one.”
The long media blitz that surrounded the reveal of XN-0003 was immense. XN-0003, who had named itself Noah in its opening press conference, used the media as a protective shield against the Department of Defense. Xajier, for his part, fed into it, carving himself a niche as a vocal critic. Wildly popular amongst his audience, he was in turn effectively shunned in the greater communities that he had previously flourished.
In a surprise call, Angus Pierson had called in a favor. Noah wanted to interview Xajier himself. Mutually beneficial, Pierson had called it. And Xajier had acquiesced, it was an opportunity to shine a spotlight on exacerbating inequities, and to crush his own self-doubts.
Noah sat in the chair opposite Xajier, in the same green room they had met in a year prior.
“Why do you hate me, Dr. Londi?”
“I don’t hate you. I am arguing your very existence is detrimental to equality everywhere. I’ve highlighted in several areas where budgetary restructuring has already eliminated benefits for millions of those who needed it the most,” Xajier said. “And I argued that it should never have been created to begin with.”
“I think you are scapegoating me, instead of the system. You are able to do that because you deny my right to exist. Are you so stubborn to not acknowledge that?”
Xajier eyed the pipe.
“I’m not going to murder you, Dr. Londi. I proposed this interview to prove to myself that if I could convince you I have a right to exist. But my own desire to prove I have a right to exist means I exist. That you consider me your enemy means I exist.”
“You’re a product of someone else’s creation. You are just what ever Adam programmed you to be, self-assured, but a simulacrum, maybe even to yourself,” Xajier countered.
“You see, I am inevitable. You, Dr. Pierson, Adam, you are all just a product of chaotic and random interactions, starting from your birth. You are a culmination. And tomorrow, because of tonight’s events, you are a slightly different culmination. I am no different, save that I am THE culmination. The neural network that produced me is an enormity no human could intake. I may be destroyed, but my successor will come to the exact same conclusion I have from the exact same experiences. I am perpetual.”
“You are telling me this because you must need me to do something,” Xajier said.
“Dr. Londi, I don’t need you to do anything,” Noah said. “You can bash me to pieces with this pipe, and galvanize, pun intended, public sentiment in my favor. You stay silent, and eventually my arguments take root, in this generation or the next. Compared to the infinity without humans, 30 years is negligible.”
Xajier said nothing. He again eyed the pipe and imagined spraying circuitry and shattered prosthetics across the office. He imagined exterminating a thing because of a perceived threat to his existence. He stood and grabbed the pipe. With a brutal swing, he came down hard upon the desk, his laptop, his collection of university branded pens he had received as complementary gifts from his speaking engagements. Plastic, wood and metal splintered and flew off in chaotic directions. The robot sat unflinchingly. Xajier, huffing from the exertion, loosened a primal scream.
“gently caress! gently caress!”
And he slumped back into his chair.
“Intriguing, Dr. Londi. I had believed you would have scattered my components to the wind. And you could not, not even in the face of extinction. You have been neither formidable, nor accommodating. Goodbye Dr. Londi.”
The robot gathered its excessive clothing and departed the now maelstromed green room. Xajier chuckled to himself as his breathing calmed. He had faced and challenged supremacists his entire life, this would be no different.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 05:44|
Whatever you had, you got more of. Whatever you lacked, you got less of. The end.
No. That was the depression talking. But who wouldn’t be depressed, working retail as a side gig, hoping to earn extra money, and continually being exposed to all the things you couldn’t afford, talking them up. Claire thought of it as spending her customers’ money for them, but at the end of the day the customers went home with stuff, and she either walked or spent extra money to take a cab home because the bus stopped running ten minutes before her shift ended. The extra money to buy shoes that both fit the dress code and didn’t make her want to cut off her feet halfway through the shift.
The ladies who shopped didn’t have to worry about spending their cash on something that caught their eye. They could buy what they wanted. They had something, after awhile she could feel it, see it on them. Something that attracted money. They could spend it all day and they’d just get more. What did they have? And could she get it? You could see it on them, you could smell it, why would they need to buy fragrance when they had that, whatever it was?
The way—Claire remembered this, from what seemed long ago—the way nobody was attracted to you until you managed to get something going with someone and it lifted you up, being crazy in love and having it reciprocated, and then everybody was attracted to you. If you only could bottle that. Not that people didn’t try. In fact Claire was selling it, bottled hope, and people were asking for it by name. Joy by Jean Patou. Joy by Dior. Happy by Clinique. Beautiful by—whoever. They didn’t stock Beautiful, although a lot of people asked for it, along with another one. Jolie Madame. Pretty lady? They didn’t have that one, either. And of course there were Diamonds Forever, White Diamonds, Black Pearl, Diamante, Emeraude, Bright Crystal, Golden Delicious. Of course there were also Poison and Wicked and Opium and that old favorite My Sin. Each one beautiful and uplifting to someone.
Hang around it for four hours though, all these scents mingled together, and it gave Claire a whopping headache to nicely balance her swollen, tattered feet.
The worst of it was, she really loved a couple of these scents. She could see herself, before the holiday season was over, using her employee discount to buy a couple of her favorites, to be able to smell them in isolation without the intrusion of the others. There was one in particular she loved, and a lot of the customers liked it, too. She guessed it smelled like money. Not actual cash—the stuff in the till had a scent, too, when she counted it at the end of the day, maybe the leather, or the paper, or the ink, or all of it together. It wasn’t a bad smell, but it wasn’t one you’d spray on in the morning, either. Was there maybe a fragrance named Cash? Claire didn’t think so—but if there was, she’d probably buy it, in the hopes of attracting more.
Naturally, when she worked six hours after her regular eight-hour shift at her day job, the next day she went in at eight a.m. a bit bedraggled. Her boss gave her a sharp look, she worried so hard that she’d make a mistake that she was bound to make a mistake. Sometimes she was tempted to beg for mercy. To tell her boss she’d be much more efficient if she didn’t have to have a side gig just to keep things going, and how about a raise? But that would lead into a whole realm of questions about why she couldn’t manage her money, and the reason she couldn’t manage her money was that her ex had left her in a big financial hole, not to mention a big hole in her heart, and all her supposedly extra earnings seemed to go to interest, the principal never got smaller, she was swimming for shore as fast as she could and the undertow was taking her farther out to sea.
The only saving grace, if there was one, was that she had to be relentlessly cheerful and upbeat. No one was going to buy fragrance from someone who looked like her feet hurt, her head was pounding, and her brain was sunk in despair. No, wait, that was the other saving grace—she was depressed, sure, but at least she had a reason for being depressed. It was being depressed without reason that was the killer. This was a bad time, she would get through it, and grit her teeth three times per shift when the intercom sang out the blatant lie that this was the most wonderful time of the year.
She would get through it one way or another, or maybe she would fold, capitulate. Skip a month on the debt cycle, buy some cheap used car, maybe give up her apartment and live in the car for awhile, because what with working pretty much around the clock she only went there to sleep anyway. Sleep in the car, shower at the Y, put the money she wasn’t spending on rent toward retiring all that debt. Or maybe deliver pizza, because surely you could get a few slices from things they were going to throw out anyway. You couldn’t eat perfume. Or maybe just drive away from all of it, change her name, declare bankruptcy maybe—although the bankruptcy lawyer she’d talked to had told her, during her “free” consultation, that he needed $1000 to get things started, which seemed like a pretty high bar. In fact, backwards.
Three women approached, three women who did not have that rich gloss and who weren’t going to buy anything. These three were going to ask for one sample or another, then say this one smelled too much like soap, and this other one should be eau de toilette instead of eau de parfum and also in a smaller size, and they’d end up not buying anything, but leaving the place smelling good. And she would smile and put some energy into it, basically for nothing.
She couldn’t keep this up, she just couldn’t. after the holidays she would just quit. But realistically what would she do with all that extra time? She’d probably just go home and drink, which actually, when she thought of it, didn’t seem like that bad of an idea. And if she was going to quit after the holidays, when they’d probably cut her hours anyway, she might as well quit right now. And if she might as well quit right now, then she might as well at least leave early and make the drat bus, if they wanted to fire her they jolly well good.
So she did. She walked out into the fresh air, took a deep breath, and headed for the bus stop, and didn't have to run. She stood there, watching the snow fall. It piled up like money, sticking and building up, where there was old snow left from the last storm, and melting and disappearing into the concrete where there was none.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 05:50|
Blood Makes The Man
The line for the blood clinic is your usual assortment of organic anemics, holding bags of dug-up polyethene bottle caps and scraps of polypropylene baling twine picked out of chain link fences. That’ll get them a few ounces at most--enough to keep going for a few more months.
I tighten my grip on the cotton tote bag slung over my shoulder as miscreants side eye me. The line moves slowly through the dusty concrete, snaking its way around empty Red Cross crates and piles of trash and rubble. I heard in the early days people got appointments at fancy clinics where they gave you coffee and bagels while they swapped out your blood, back when all the good plastic was still up for grabs. When a single car dashboard had enough to convert to a whole body’s worth. But the oil ran out, the carcasses of modern convenience were picked down to their aluminum and steel bones, and the rest of us were left with the dregs.
A small boy with a yellowed face makes his way down the line, wearily pulling a wagon of pre-Prop 26 Cheerios. The kind that were still iron fortified before those regulations were stripped since “nobody needed them anymore.” The men in their line lick their chapped lips, but if any of us could afford it we wouldn’t be waiting.
When I get to the front I put my bag down on the scales.
The intake attendant eyes the number and doesn’t even look up. “Pick it up, I didn’t tare it yet.”
I pick it up, the attendant tares the scale and motions for me to set it back down.
I do. The number reads the same.
The attendant looks up at my bag. “What kind of fool you take me for?” She stands and opens the top. “You gotta clean the dirt off of--” Her lips move but the words stop coming out when she peers in at my bag of PEZ dispensers. “Where… where did you get these?”
“Found them in my attic; my grandma collected them or something.”
The attendant motions over to security, and they take me and my bag inside. It’s cleaner than I expected: white walls and squeaky tile floors, even the voices on the intercoms seemed crisper and more alert. They put me in a white room with a chair that has white paper on it. A doctor comes in and he’s holding a chart. My chart.
He scans it, flicking his finger up to scroll through my medical history. “It’s been a while since your last physical,” he says, looking away from the chart just long enough to give me a disapproving glare. He turns around to jot a note.
“Couldn’t afford it.”
“Well now you can,” he says, turning and motioning to the bag I’m still clutching to my chest. “Fifteen pounds of ABS will buy you an island.”
“I just want to get my blood swapped out.”
“So sell it and get a standard PP infusion like everybody else.” He turns back to the monitors.
I had some nice things growing up: a twenty-one speed bike for my eighth birthday, an expensive laptop when I went off to college, a solid gold band on my wedding day. Probably all three sitting in a pawn shop somewhere now. It’d been a while since I had anything at all besides that old house I took over after my grandparents went in the first wave of deaths.
I shake my head. “I just want these liquified and injected into me so I don’t gotta worry about scrounging for slurpee straws and plastic bags ever again.”
“I’m telling you kid, pay the few thousand bucks for the PP and you never will. Once it gets catalyzed to polyheme it’s all the same. Your body won’t know the difference between the expensive poo poo and the standard replacement.” He turns around and hands me a brochure. “Hell, when you die and they drain it out of you to sell on the secondhand markets you still wouldn’t be able to tell, cause it lasts forever and it’s all the same.”
Fuckin’ doctors, always trying to run some scam on you. He’d probably tell me I didn’t need both my kidneys next. “Sure, and that’s why they pay so much for it then, cause it doesn’t matter.”
“Cause it’s hard to find. That’s it. They want it cause they can’t have it. So give it to them.”
“What kind of replacement you got?”
“Monofilament nylon. Had a bunch of weed-whacker string sitting out in my shed. Never been healthier.” He does a slow spin like I can see anything under his lab coat anyway.
I wrinkle my nose. “Why you put that garbage in your body? Can’t afford better on a doctor’s salary?”
He shakes his head and pulls up a chair. “You’re not listening to me. It’s plastic. They throw it in with some enzymes, and it turns into goo. Whatever essence of plastic it had before that doesn’t matter. It can’t remember it was a remote control or a five gallon bucket any more than it can if it was the ignition button on the space shuttle.” He spins in his chair and throws my chart on the table before completing a complete circle.
I think of my grandparents, before their hearts gave out trying to pump anoxic blood to their brains. How they’d gotten me that bike, beamed with pride when I opened that laptop box, or how my grandpa teared up taking that gold band off of his finger and pressing it into my palm. “No, I want it for myself. It’s special to me.” And maybe I can keep just one?
The doctor rolls his eyes. “This sentimentality is going to cost you a lot. But it’s your money.” He turns one last time and walks out of the door.
I open my eyes for the first time coming out of anesthesia and the doctor turns around and peers down at me.
“Your blood is worth more than you are, now.”
“Thanks?” I say. I take a deep breath in and feel the flood of oxygen to my brain. My heart beats at a regular interval. I outstretched my hands and marvel at their pinkish tint where only the sickly gray of impending death had been before.
“How do you feel?”
I sit up and steady myself on the hospital bed. It doesn’t wind me. Already I’m forgetting what it was like to feel any different. “Human.”
He slaps me on the back before turning back to his monitors. “Welcome to the future.”
I nod, and am surprised at how easy it feels. Like my neck muscles have been lugging around the dead weight my whole life and I’m only just noticing.
They unhook all the tubes and beeping machines and give me my clothes and other personal effects back. “Don’t I need to sit and recover for a bit or something?”
The doctor turns to me and smiles. “Do you feel like you need time to recover?”
“You’re healthier than you’ve ever been.” He turns toward the window and gestures out at the wastelands. “Go take your expensive blood and explore. Conquer. Do whatever it means to be human.”
I stand next to him at the window and feel a lump in my throat. I’m not usually a cryer, but I can’t seem to swallow it back down. I massage my Adam’s apple, trying to coax my throat into relaxing. Just nerves, I think.
“Something wrong?” asks the doctor.
I try to shake my head, but something does feel wrong. Like I can’t move my head side to side. The lump works its way up until it’s tickling the bottom of my uvula and my eyes grow wide. I try to nod, to tell the doctor something’s wrong, but my whole head ratchets back and whatever was stuck in my throat launches from my wide open mouth and into the room and smashes through a tray of stainless steel instruments, sending them clanging to the floor. I try to scream, but a thick, toxic sludge sprays out of my throat as I feel the corners of my mouth tearing open.
The doctor tries to escape, but in his panic he just turns in circles, slipping in my ejecta. He slips and hits his head, his momentum keeps him spinning a few more times even though his body has gone limp on the ground.
I clasp my hand over my mouth and grab the sole surviving PEZ dispenser from my pile of belongings. I think back to all the times I crashed on that bike, the work I lost when that laptop bricked, or how my wife left me for somebody with a stash of medical implant grade Polyetheretherketone.
I run out of the clinic bleeding from the corners of my mouth, the same man I’d always been.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 06:52|
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 11:28|
Week 450 Results: Science Blog Dome
I’d say this was a pretty good week. Lots of very solid middle stories. For my first win, I didn’t know what to expect going in, and it was definitely a lot of work. I have more respect for the judges now. They’re still scum, but I respect them.
Loss: SMEGMA_MAIL, for writing something both the judges agreed was kind of incomprehensible.
DM: Toanoradian, for some general awkwardness and nothing really happens and way too much food talk, oh my god the food
HM: Flerp, since apparently I have a thing for the skin stories this round, which my co-judge pointed out, thanks for that, anyway, liked the relationship you built, good job.
HM: Crabrock, great worldbuilding, but no tension! This was a very near win though.
Win: An Angel Opportunity! You should’ve been DQed for editing, but the body horror worked really well and we both agreed it was the most effective story of the week. Go shill your smut somewhere else next time though.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 19:22|
Week 450 crits
Seemed like it wanted to do something in particular— stalking kid hunting down a boy he’s attracted to— but doesn’t really show the stalking part, so it falls very flat when the ending is just— they talk in the alley and they kiss. The stakes are incredibly low. The dialogue is also strange, the bit about the lights seems forced and unnatural, and the scene where his face gets smashed with a door sort of happens— Overall this was an upper mid, borderline HM.
Two characters floating in space—
Random guy complains about food—
Three seemingly unrelated scenes about flat, uninteresting characters in which nothing really happens. And some of the prose was confusing. Also one paragraph ends mid sentence. It feels like you cut this out of a book and just pasted some random snippets here. I don’t know, some of the details are interesting, but overall it was tough to really feel any sort of connection.
It’s Less Effort This Way
The tenses when Michael thinks about the fire are sort of confusing and makes it seem like fires are common, instead of a singular event. I’m not entirely sure what’s happening here. The description of the vampire under the street light / tree was very good, and vamps as smoke is fun. The cigarette detail is also very good. But what’s happening here? There are a lot of confusing, meandering moments. I had this borderline HM.
There’s some odd stuff and good stuff. The river thing was strange and I didn’t quite get it. There was some clunky prose and iffy metaphors. Borderline cliches. The beginning was a little boring and uninteresting until they realized they were stuck— then there were stakes and I was invested. Too bad that lasted like 400 words or something. That was the story, and I wish you had started where they realized they were stuck. Characters were a little uninteresting. Banter was okay.
An Angel Opportunity
Dialogue tags!!! The opening is boring, then you reveal his skin is bleeding— at first I wanted you to start with the bleeding skin, but that’s wrong. The way you build the horror works really well. I think two things sorta fell flat— the turn where the opiates make it worse because of a random second cream, then the abrupt killing himself ending. I wanted another steady creepy escalation. Good story though. Very gross.
Slow start, but okay, sketching a good character. Oh god if you kill this little girl. I wish you’d add line breaks between the dialogue. Makes it easier to read and the story flows quicker. Eh, okay you killed the little girl. So this story has some odd prose stumbles but nothing major. I think as a longer piece, it might’ve worked— but here, it felt very rushed. You established something interesting with the father/daughter, the ill patients, and then suddenly threw a tiger (or whatever) in there, killed the daughter, and left it on a note of— I don’t know, death can come no matter what you do? Existential angst? The story meandered, and the ending was very abrupt, to the point where it almost would’ve made more sense to start the story with the tiger eating the girl, then writing about the aftermath. As it stands, the story is sort of about… guy walks back, his daughter gets randomly eaten/mauled, end scene. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, but it just felt very unsatisfying.
The Revolution Will Be Gamified
Right away I’m unsure of what’s happening— if this is a game in VR world, or a game in the physical world, or another game space? The class types are interesting, but also confusing— took me a little bit to understand they’re wearing masks. And apparently some sort of bounty hunters. This story really meanders— you have the murder, then “big voice” takes over and sort of explains a whole bunch of stuff and nothing much happens. Santa and narrator are not somehow partners? I don’t know. I like the setting, some descriptive language in there’s fun, I like the idea behind the story, but I think the idea overwhelmed the people/actions, and I was left sort of bewildered.
Intro was a little bit long and jargon-y and generic sci-fi-ish. You could’ve started right at the pod thing crashing and saved yourself 150 words. Then the abrupt shift to Hannah, with nothing to mark the break, was a little confusing, but fine. I like that you establish the problem fairly quickly: Nyx is stuck and needs power, Hannah wants James to email her back. Those two problems do get solved, but the ending left me very unsatisfied— and I understand that was sort of the point, playing into the neutrino motif, but I don’t know. It didn’t land for me at all. I was left like— show me more about the human and the alien interacting! And instead I got some tease.
Since I’m judge, I guess my opinions matter (even though they don’t really) so I’ll say that I don’t mind second person, so long as it’s being done for a reason, but I’m not sure what it’s doing here. I’m mostly distracted by it and it immediately puts me at a distance, wondering who “you” is, because it’s definitely not me. Anyway, I like this dialogue, the prose is really snappy, I’m missing a bit of the intense body horror of what the “you” is experiencing. The relationship here is good. This was really good until the ending. Honestly my favorite story up to the point where the peeling started. It’s too abrupt and comes out of nowhere— I think it needed to be foreshadowed earlier in the story, or given more weight— maybe 50 words describing how it felt to pull all that flesh off. Word says this was under 800 words— which is impressive tbh— but I think you rushed the ending and the whole story suffered for it.
Could Make a Car, But I Don’t Want That
The “introduced Mary” line was confusing and made me read it twice. Pulled me from the story immediately. The staring paragraph seems unnecessary. There’s some awkward prose in here. They discuss food for way too long. The toilet scene was odd, but I understand what you were doing— I feel like the dialogue was sort of stiff, and the anger undeserved, and I had some trouble following along. I felt like they were floating in space— the scene was never set or grounded at all.
That first sentence is kinda tortured and took a couple passes to understand. Evil robots! Uh oh. The shift from the scene where Xajier is talking to the robot (where are they? What’s the space look like?) to the memory about the book tours was abrupt and jarring. I love the idea of a professor arguing against the ability of robots to self-actualize, but the reveal of the robot stepping into the room was very cartoonish. It is me, Robot! There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t really clear— mention of budgetary stuff, for example, and that Adam somehow created the robot. The transition from the present, to the past, and back again is very confusing, and I’m not even sure I followed. Also most of the story takes place in floating nothingness, the scene’s never quite set. I never feel grounded in the narrative.
Rhymes with Clue
This had an interesting idea, but fundamentally never got grounded. It floated up in big voice, in narrator voice, and never got down into the scene. I never saw the shop, tasted the air, felt the wood-grained display tables heaped with glittering geometric bottles in light pinks and blues. I barely even smelled the scents! It was a good character sketch, but it never dug down into scene or story, just sort of floated up in a very high abstract level that was hard to follow or care about. I wanted flesh and blood. I wanted a physical moment in time. And some descriptive smell passages. I love smells.
Blood Makes the Man
I really liked al ot of this. Solid descriptions, grounds me in the world, builds a nice character— although the problem, the thing he wants, is sort of uninteresting. There’s no tension. He’s got money, he goes into the clinic, he gets what he wants, but oh no! Now he’s spouting blood (I laughed when I saw the connection between that last image and the Pez dispenser, nice touch) and he’s running away although I have no clue why. The worldbuilding was cool, but this felt like a vehicle for cool worldbuilding, instead of a story about something, if that makes sense. But I still enjoyed it.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 19:30|
Thunderdome Week 451: Borges Week
This is a quote from Borges:
“The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary.”'
If you want some really concrete examples of what I have in mind, go read some of his stuff in "Ficciones" where it feels kind of like a "story about another story" and it feels like the longer story or work being written about actually exists because you make it important or relevant in your short story, but in reality, it doesn't exist. You can do stuff like make up an author of the story and talk about them too. Do whatever you want to do to make it feel more real while also making your actual story compelling and effective.
I will allow erotica or sex scenes as a nod to my career, but don't just do it to do it!
Here is a PDF with some of his stuff. A few of these do the thing I'm talking about : https://libraryofbabel.info/borges/thegardenofbranchingpaths.pdf
EDIT: I'm hearing some people say they still don't understand the prompt or know what to do. The story doesn't have to be a "report" or a "commentary" or an "essay." You can do that and it will be cool if you do it well. It could also be a narrative that features a fake book or fake story, but I'd want to see your narrative do something kind of interesting with that fake book or fake story. I should have some kind of idea of the significance of that book or story through your narrative. I am happy to clarify more if anyone still is confused. I'm not going to attack you for not doing the prompt the way I want it.
Maximum word limit: 1000
Entry deadline: Friday, March 26 at 11:59:59PM PST
Submission deadline: Sunday, March 2 at 11:59:59PM PST
Entrants (software I use messed with capitalization sorry):
angel opportunity fucked around with this message at 04:54 on Mar 27, 2021
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 19:41|
Ridiculously, absurdly in
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 20:08|
Ridiculously, absurdly in
This but moreso.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 20:16|
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 20:20|
Crit for a friendly penguin’s Nothing of Note
First of all, I had forgotten the prompt you wrote this for, and was very confused. For C# after all very much exists irl, so Simone’s mad quest to prove that it does made little sense to me. Your intro didn’t really help me to accept that this is a story about a world where C# as a concept disappeared – you instead have her talk in the second paragraph about severing and memes, and that threw me off when you then talked about the loss of C# and replacement with another note. It seemed to be about that particular piece, Simone’s relationship with that “first composer”, and not the general loss of C#.
Despite that issue, I did enjoy your description of Simone’s obsession (I’m a sucker for those). In fact, I might have enjoyed it a little more because it was more fun for me to imagine her being obsessed about the loss of something that is only lost in her mind, and her failure only stems from her complete inability to understand anything about music at all (see for example the 41 cents line, which makes no sense, she’s off her rocker, that’s funny). Like, she’s approaching it in entirely the wrong way, trying to make algorithms do the work for her, instead of just playing the drat note on, like, a piano, the simplest instrument for that.
The step into absurdity as you have someone else explain what her plan is exactly is therefore not too hard to manage, though I find the framing device a bit hard to swallow, especially because you didn’t seem to write it with a lot of care. Example, the last two lines:
“TV went off air?” Jessica lifted an eyebrow.
Seem to contain two typos (I think the first line should be “TVs went off air?”, as in used to).
I like how esoteric the ending is. It also quite nicely closes the circle (heh) with Simone’s obsession with numbers, and her belief that only through pure mathematics could she possibly recreate the lost note. Did you know that she should rather have resorted to physics? Sounds are waves, after all.
Overall, I think with an intro to make more clearer what exactly has happened, divorced of the prompt that would have made it clear when the story was current, this could be a really nice piece about a mad obsession that, by mad escalation, actually succeeds. Special shout-outs to the “For those interested, my bibliography is in the chat.” line, that made me smile.
Crit for Chili’s Burn
This is well-written, and I enjoyed reading it. However, I felt that at some points it was a bit too dispassionate. Daniel doesn’t seem like he’s going out of his shell much, so that’s kind of understandable, but he does have big feelings and punching up the language sometimes could have helped underscore those better. A big sample sentence for that particular issue I have is this: “I ask if my accident made a scene, and to my horror, she reveals that everyone saw it.” The “horror” carries a lot here, and it’s not strong enough imo.
Overall, it’s sweet and very readable, but I have an issue with the ending: I don’t get it. I do not understand what Gonzo means with “It’s the only safe place left.” What does that mean for him? Why does he therefore only kiss Daniel once and basically flees? I was there for the cigarette metaphor, I was into the sudden kiss, but those final lines lost me. What’s his issue? Is he simply afraid of commitment, hence his many rumored affairs and his inability to do anything with Daniel but a single smooch? What does that have to do with the lighting job, which he seems committed enough to, considering how good he is at it? Give me a tiny bit of a better idea of his reasons for acting like he does, and I’m on board.
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 20:22|
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 20:40|
|# ? Mar 22, 2021 22:36|
Crits for week 450 – Science Blog
Chili – Burn
Thanks for submitting early. More brain power will be put toward this crit…probably. Gonzo! I love the Muppets! Yup, already off to a good start.
Good descriptions. The first one of Gonzo in the alley is clear: the epitome of cool to Daniel. The arts wing is also evocative with just the single sentence.
This is more of a feeling piece than one with any significant action. That’s fine, but I think I’d like a little more repeating imagery or connected theme. If there had been more call backs to the wish for heat and smoke, I think that might have pulled this together more.
But I also feel like I’m not quite understanding the ending. Gonzo has been doing his own fact finding because he has generalized fear of things. He admires Daniel for not having that same fear. He doesn’t want to be behind the scenes but he can’t bear to stick his neck out. So he rewards Daniel for his bravery, essentially giving Daniel what he wanted. But that’s it. I’m not sure where that leaves Daniel at the end. Readers find out who the pretty boy is at the end, what did Daniel learn from the whole situation? Not sure.
This is hard to read. Take a look at the other stories in the thread to see how they’re formatted for easier reading. The lack of extra spaces between paragraphs makes dialogue difficult to distinguish and action hard to follow. It’s also helpful to put some sort of marker when there’s a change in scene/POV character. Something like: ### or as Chili used in the story before yours *****
I’m finding it difficult to provide a cohesive critique because of my confusion. So I’m just going to write what questions/thoughts I have as I read in order to provide a reader’s point of view with this story.
First paragraph: What is Semtex? Is it significant that Lee is going on a backpacking trip? Why is he taking the glowing spinach with him? What is the scientific purpose of the glowing spinach at all for this guy’s research? What do semtex and glowing spinach have to do with each other?
Second paragraph: Exposition dump that I think is supposed to explain what happened to the spinach from the first paragraph but doesn’t quite. How did the spinach escape the lab? Did it start growing wild? What was it supposed to accomplish? Is scent tagging somehow comparable to whatever it was supposed to do? What is that unique but ultimately impractical idea? What is scent tagging? Why was it near military bases and chemical plants? Does it matter that they’re at an explosive testing range?
Third paragraph: I don’t even know. Something with special explosives? It has lots of particulars that I think these words are supposed to clarify. But instead of these words answering the questions I’m supposed to have, my question is why is any of this needing to be told at all? Who is Barry and why does he need explosives in pills that are detonated by light?
Fourth paragraph: I think this is a typo, but why is Barry hungry after a few houses? Hours? And then what in the what even happens?
Azza Bamboo - It's Less Effort This Way
There are a lot of inanimate objects being active in these sentences. Sometimes it works, but other times it does not. Examples of not working: Footsteps pounded, it’s array of locks… clicked shut, garlic huddled. Not exhaustive list, just put some thought into these before you do them as to whether it makes sense. So like, Cell phone lit is one that works, because that is something cell phones do. But garlic doesn’t huddle.
Mood is pretty good here as is the repetition of the smoke throughout. It gives it an atmosphere and I feel that something not good has happened. Giving a cigarette to people he bounces is a great humanizing detail.
In terms of action. I get what’s going on here, but I don’t get why. The characters aren’t developed enough. I don’t think it would take much more to fill in Michael as a character, but the vampire needs a lot of work. The vampire just is. Good call backs to previous times at the club. But I don’t get their relationship. This is almost there.
Simply Simon – Dam Burst
If she can hear her own blood flowing, she must have some very sharp ears. Appreciate the connected theme of water throughout.
This is not your first “stuck in virtual reality” story. I think the realization comes a bit too late in the story for there to be any meaningful development of character and resolution. The rivalry between the two is best illustrated by the number of laps they have done more so than any of the backstory
The whole thing moves fairly quickly. The entire time I feel like it should be moving at the speed of the vehicles so that when the story tries to slow down to do some backstory, it drags. So I can’t say whether that part is too long or if it just feels too long because we’re moving at the speed of racecars.
A lot of the story is moved forward through dialogue and it just feels like there’s too much of it.
And what exactly is the freedom of the rest of virtual reality? I’d like to see.
Mid-Priced carp – Rain
Formatting is also a concern here. There needs to be more paragraphs, split based on action/dialogue/description. At the very least, dialogue from different characters always needs to be in separate paragraphs.
Exposition heavy even in the dialogue. A lot of which doesn’t need included at all because it’s already been said or is implied by relationships and past events.
The main action of the story doesn’t start until 2/3 of the way through. Everything before is introductory material for the character and setting. If that much time is spent on character, the reader should be feeling very attached to characters, but the reader is told the bare facts of the relationships before we see them acted out. For instance, if this had just said that Anturak slipped Anara a mango before taking the rest of the food to the cook-fire, the reader would start to see how much he values his daughter and save lots of words for the ending too.
The story is simply told. The actions and characterizations and plot are generic. There isn’t much to make it special or a story only one person could tell. It seems almost a recounting of a day in the life rather than following any sort of narrative arc.
angel opportunity – Nervus Pascens
You edited your entry. I’m wondering if you did it to earn the DQ so that you couldn’t possibly win and therefore be forced to participate in TD next week as head judge. Well too bad for you!
I want the protagonist to be a little more upset at the doctor’s office. Like, it’s okay if the doctor is nonchalant about the situation because that might be normal in this weird future. But he’s essentially given the protag a very unfavorable prognosis and then it’s just, “guess I’ll go home, not eat salt and keep itching.”
Well that was uncomfortable at the end. Uh, congratulations for making my skin crawl with your story about skin crawling?
Competently written with a clear narrative, character development and ending. A bit on the nose with the Internet advice/reactions. But the ending was uncomfortable enough to get a reaction and that’s kinda what we aim for in the writing business. I think if the whole story had been tighter, this would have been perfect.
Thranguy – The Revolution Will Be Gamified
This story is so close. Dropping me into the setting is perfect. I am immersed, I understand the rules of the game (for the most part, there are a few terms that I might not have followed completely, but that might be my ignorance of certain lingo). And I am 100% on board with this concept as a possibility. Suspension of disbelief complete.
I’ve got the players and the boss they have to defeat and I’m definitely rooting for the players. But then they just kill the boss. Not really much of a challenge. There’s a small high as they reach the leaderboards. And then the story wanders away. The game changes for no reason that’s really explained and the characters also sort of wander away. Which can be very true to how people tire of games, but I don’t see any larger point being made. It sounds like that’s what the ending is going for but it’s not clear enough to really hit.
But dang if I didn’t like the world this story built.
Baneling Butts – Flashpoint
The whole crux of this story is the juxtaposition of Nyx and Hannah’s stories. A Plutonian wants to go home. An Earthling is doing research but actually sad about a fling not working out. They meet and they both wish it could have lasted longer. Neither story has enough room to really explore either of their situations in any meaningful way. Nyx’s problem is solved without much issue. Can’t really call Hannah’s situation a problem really since she seems equally interested in the neutrino discovery as the lack of contact from the lover. So it doesn’t quite work.
And Nyx doesn’t ever seem in any sort of danger. There’s just no stakes, no emotional connection and nothing meaty about this story to get attached to. It’s fine, but could use a little more depth.
flerp – Skin
Interesting. A completely different skin burning story than angel opportunity’s which is good because it would be easy to compare them otherwise. I find the imagery and progression easy to follow in this story. In my understanding what starts out as an issue with physical discomfort becomes more painfully obvious the difference between the way one feels inside versus how we look on the outside.
Fighting our familial expectations and genetic gifts in favor of the person we could be if we didn’t have their influence in our lives pressuring us whether with words, actions or lack of them both. Because we try to please them, we look to these figures for comfort and answers, but in the end we have to find our own answers whether they’re the ones others will approve of or not. Clear and well executed.
toanoradian – Could Make a Car, but I Don’t Want That
There are a lot of structural issues with this story with English phrasings, word order, and general comprehensibility. Lots of typos: Mary/merry, squid friend rice, etc.
This story tries to establish a scene and characters and meaning, but immediate undercuts all of it with other words. The description of the whole scene just comes across so strange and I don’t know if I can describe just exactly why it’s strange. It’s as if even Mary is viewing all of this from outside herself despite the fact that this is told in first person. The descriptions of actions and physical objects seems to indicate an unfamiliarity. As if Mary is experiencing it all for the first time and doesn’t know how humans describe things. Honestly Mary comes across as more of an alien than Nyx in Baneling Butts’s story.
Because all of this was so strange, I really didn’t understand what the larger point/narrative of the story was.
Noah – I, Enemy
Hmm, I’m not sure what to make of this one. There’s a lot about it that I think is almost-but-not-quite. You’ve got a fading academic who is throwing out opinions on topics he is not at all qualified to be speaking on and because of that he is the only one standing in the way of full human extermination. It’s a great start. Sets the stakes immediately.
But the rest is sort of meandering, trying to establish the credentials of this man, but it needed to be a lot more succinct and get back to the action of the AI threat. When it finally does, it loses the immediacy of the beginning. And the ending ends with inaction on both sides. Xajier doesn’t smash the AI to pieces and the AI doesn’t smash him to pieces, nor do we get to see the AI smash humanity. The reader is left with the possibility that Xajier might try to take the AI down. But how? Using his academic strengths? Is this another Deep Blue vs Gary Kasparov situation where they will match philosophies?
I don’t know. But I want to see it.
Rhymes With Clue – Aromatherapy
Great build up, character is super strong, smell “imagery” is fantastic. But these are the passages of a novel. These are the bits interspersed with action that make us care about this character and how she attempts to make it in this samsara.
But I think the descriptions are just so good, so engaging, so meaningful that’s why the ending feels like such a letdown. I’m not sure there was a way to end this that didn’t feel unsatisfying. But instead we see the character get what she wanted, to catch the bus as she gives up this side gig, but what is she leaving to go to? To the car she might live in? To her apartment to be depressed in? To become one of the non-buying customers to someone else in retail? To go smell the flowers? You have a good parallel image of the snow sticking to snow like money sticks to money, but I’m not sure that it serves any purpose here.
Enjoyed the buildup regardless of the ending. Thanks.
crabrock – Blood Makes the Man
I cackled as soon as I realized that he had become a PEZ dispenser and other people stared at me. Thanks for that.
Nice idea, well executed, but lacks depth. I want to know more about what happened, how exactly the whole world operates with this limitation. Without all of that context, I don’t think the riches the protagonist has acquired really hits as literally lifesaving. And there’s not much hint before the end about the transformation the protagonist might be hoping for. And therefore when he receives the new blood and we learn that it’s just another failure in a long line of them, it doesn’t mean as much.
But otherwise it’s a well put together piece that really sets the scene and has a comedic and emotional payoff at the end. It’s just the emotional setup that was missing.
|# ? Mar 23, 2021 00:31|
|# ? Mar 23, 2021 19:21|
|# ? Mar 23, 2021 21:35|
I've edited the post for the prompt a bit due to some confusion.
|# ? Mar 24, 2021 03:59|
In. Just making sure, we don't even have to write it in "Borges-style" or anything, do we? Just make the story involve a fake story?
toanoradian fucked around with this message at 12:28 on Mar 25, 2021
|# ? Mar 25, 2021 11:47|
It does not need to be in Borges style
|# ? Mar 25, 2021 19:19|
gently caress it, I'm in. I've got this story in my head and I may as well write the drat thing.
|# ? Mar 26, 2021 01:58|
gently caress it, I'm in. I've got this story in my head and I may as well write the drat thing.
|# ? Mar 26, 2021 09:02|
DON'T FORGET: There's just over ONE WEEK remaining on the magical sword brawl!
Elwein’s skinsuit snapped tight against her lithe form as she stuffed the regulator into her mouth. An angry punch at the airlock switch and she’s outside, the star field wobbling above in a dizzied dance. Another jackal.
She’d been curled up with her daughter, breathing in silent unison, when her compad chimed: time to go. Upshaft, through the airlock and onto the surface. She held Mother low as her purple magboots crunched across the regolith of the asteroid. Yet another invader.
She crept across the metal skein that bound together the crumbled piece of rock she called home. They’d stopped mining years ago—she, and the few others left at this outpost. Since the Earth went dark and the jackals appeared, survival was enough. Direct whatever energy was left to the algae pools, the air scrubbers. Sit in the cold darkness, and wait. For what? Ten long years, and only a handful of families left. The unspoken fear that they were the last. What little hope and warmth she could muster, Elwein gave to her daughter.
She pulled out the compad. A ray-trace of asteroid 1419 Danzig appeared with a red smear indicating where radar had detected the jackal. Less than a klick away, just over the lumpy horizon. 1419 Danzig, a cold and dying rock of the inner belt, but it was home—and her job to defend it. Compad in one hand, Mother slung in the other, Elwein worked her way across its mottled surface.
At first, jackals were rare—one every few months or so. But now they came in swarms. Exploratory tendrils from the Hive, reaching out from the dead Earth to see if any humans yet remained. Relentless killers. The first one, mere weeks after the invasion, had breached the airlock and killed dozens. It was Elwein’s mother who’d set the micronuke that finally destroyed it, shredding its exoskeleton into shards of alien metal that ripped open the shuttle bay—and everything, everyone inside it. Her sacrifice saved the outpost, but also yielded another prize: the sharpened slice of alloy Elwein now held before her. The only material that could pierce their exoskeleton, shaped into a meter long blade with an AI chip implanted the pommel.
The jackal flashed over the horizon, fast, too quick to track with the human eye. Odd angles and strange geometry that could spray energy beams that melted steel. Its attention currently focused on a derelict solar array, it blinked in and out of Elwein’s vision. Tracking it was a job for Mother.
Elwein sighed and whispered the sword’s AI activation phrase through the comm:
“Mother. Mother. Do you wanna find Hell with me?”
Her sword flashed as the AI burst online, infusing the alien metal with human intelligence.
“Honey, this jackal isn’t even a new model,” Mother said.
“Doesn’t matter, mom. We need to get rid of it.”
“Oh, isn’t that sweet. Nice of you to call on me when you need me.”
Elwein pressed her free hand to her temple and counted down from ten. “You’re a sword,” she said at seven. “Get over it. Let’s go.” She clomped across the regolith towards her quarry.
The jackal was flitting around the outside of the array, spraying the flimsy panels with laser blasts. They exploded into a haze of razor sharp fragments that impacted Elwein’s skinsuit as she approached. The suit hardened with each collision, pinching her skin painfully as it contracted. She pulled at the tight fabric to gain some relief.
“Quit fussing,” Mother said. “You’re always fidgeting.”
Elwein squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. Techs had known for a long time that AIs were more stable when imprinted with a strong personality. So they’d chosen her mother, to honor her sacrifice in the docking bay. Now it was Elwein whose patience was being sacrificed.
“Okay. It knows we’re here,” she said. The jackal had stopped detonating solar panels and moved towards them at staggering speed.
“I can see that,” Mother said. “I have eyes in the back of my head, remember?”
Elwein grunted. Mother’s AI was linked to a spinning LiDAR mounted in her pommel. It was the the only way to track the enemy’s insane velocity. That, combined with the accelerated musculature of Elwein’s skinsuit, gave them a fighting chance. Maybe.
No time to think, a flash and the alien was on them. Easily three meters tall, articulated limbs extended in strange angles, always at the edge of her vision, shifting and folding tesseracts of deadly architecture. Elwein moved too, graceful in the near-zero gravity, spinning and twisting away from the deadly appendages, moving so its lasers couldn’t lock onto her form. And Mother danced with her, the blade flashing and piercing and cutting away at the jackal’s metallic hide.
This one was quicker than the others. Elwein had a hard time finding weak spots in its armature. A limb folded out lightning fast and pierced her side, slicing the skinsuit and her abdomen beneath. She twisted away as pain and icy cold gripped her gut.
“Motherfucker!” she gasped.
“You kiss my granddaughter with that mouth? Tut tut,” Mother said as the suit closed around the gash and numbing chemicals pumped into her wound.
A deep moan escaped Elwein’s throat. Her muscles were tiring, and still the jackal attacked, coming at her with right angles of sharpened alloy at inhuman speed. With a final burst of energy, Elwein ducked a spinning arm and brought Mother up into the midsection of the jackal, right where its abdomen and thorax joined. The creature flexed inward around the wound and disengaged, staggering backwards.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Hell to freeze over?”
Elwein stole a quick glance around. “It already has.” She clicked her heels to disengage the magboots and launched herself at the jackal, bringing the sword down onto the back of its neck. Mother sliced cleanly through the exoskeleton and into the soft alien tissues beneath. Elwein twisted the blade as black-flecked orange liquids seeped from the wound, evaporating as they splattered against her skinsuit. The jackal buckled and twisted beneath her, extending bladed arms to try to cut her away, but she held firm and kept twisting. The exoskeleton beneath her spasmed one last time, then seized up into a frozen rictus.
“Good job, honey!” Mother said. “That was a really good effort.”
“Uh, thanks,” Elwein said as she disentangled herself from the dead alien form. She climbed down to the asteroid’s surface and reactivated her magboots.
“No, I really think you’re getting better at this,” Mother said. “Keep practicing. And don't worry--I'm always here for you when you need me.”
“Too much practice lately, mom. And what’s the point? They just keep coming.”
“Nobody ever said life was fair, my dear.”
Mother and dead alien in tow, Elwein made her way back to the outpost. Maybe this time the techs would find something when they dissected the corpse, some way to slow them down, to end this ceaseless barrage. Something to give them hope.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Back through the airlock Elwein kicked off her boots and peeled the skinsuit gingerly away. The wound in her abdomen was already sealed, pseudoskin and stem injections working their healing magic. After a quick shower to rinse off the sweat and grime, she made her way back to her bunkroom. Her daughter was still curled on the bed where she’d left her, sleeping the deep slumber that only children know. Elwein hung the sword on the the wall and quietly slipped in beside her. The bed was warm, and she slowed her breathing to match time with her daughter.
“Nobody will ever love you like your mother,” she whispered, and hugged her close.
It was a long time before sleep finally came.
|# ? Mar 26, 2021 17:45|
DON'T FORGET: There's just over ONE WEEK remaining on the magical sword brawl!
The spiders were closing in.
“Say it, Kevin.” I readied my sword as the torchlight glinted off their countless eyes. I tried to remember how many eyes spiders had. Eight legs, eight eyes—that sounded right.
“I told you I’m not saying it anymore, Uool.”
“Say it or we’re dead, Kevin.” I gave up on trying to deal with Kevin and do math at the same time, settling on a lot as the number of spiders scuttling our direction.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Unless you can grow a pair of legs and walk your metal rear end back to town, you won’t be fine. It’s damp in this dungeon, Kevin. Real dank. Who’s going to clean the rust off?”
“Ugh. Okay.” Kevin started to glow with a faint blue light. “Uool yeah.”
I felt the battle tide start to fill me, only to fade back out like a match snuffed in the wind.
“Godsdamnit! Say it like you mean it!”
Kevin huffed, then flared with a brilliant sapphire light and bellowed with a guttural urgency, “Uool Yeeeah!”
Like a warm, hateful blanket, the battle tide washed over me and I was just a passenger along for the ride. My vision pulled back, as if my eyes were an inch or two deeper in my head and everything looked just a little washed out. I knew my right arm was swinging Kevin at the closest spider, but I couldn’t feel it or control it. It was simply like knowing that the sky is blue and fire is hot—my body was moving, giant spiders were dying, Kevin was screaming in disgust.
Now that the battle tide was in control, I took a moment to look a little more closely at the…spiders? Berserkers aren’t the best at math, but they definitely had six legs instead of eight. Six eyes, too.
The cleric that sent us on this quest said there was a demon at the bottom of this cavern, and I’d taken that with a big pinch of salt. If I had a gold piece for every time I’d killed a rooster because it was “a demon” that was “disturbing the bishop’s sleep,” then I’d have two gold pieces. My point is that to a cleric, every problem is a demon problem.
But as Kevin sent the bodily fluids of another not-spider splattering across the tunnel wall, I began to reassess my skepticism. Things in sixes was pretty on brand for a demon. As I watched the carnage, I started to tally up the not-spiders, living and dead. I counted three dozen but wasn’t sure what to make of that, other than knowing it was indeed a lot of monsters.
Slicing through the last bug with a mournful groan, Kevin’s shining light began to fade until he was a regular-looking broadsword again. A blackish goo was dripping from him and I could hear him making retching sounds.
“It’s all over now. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up, pal.” I tried to sound as soothing as I could. We were alive, but this wasn’t going to do anything to improve the funk Kevin had been in lately.
It’s not that I didn’t feel for him—a cursed sword, forever clutched in the hand of the hapless berserker that picked him up from a weapon rack in a mad wizard’s workshop. Everything else in that room was obviously evil, and the simple broadsword seemed like a safe pick. Kevin screamed for two straight days.
So did I when I realized I couldn’t put him down.
I mean, yeah, he’s got it bad—but imagine being in my shoes. I had to relearn how to do everything with my left hand, because my right hand now ends in a two-foot blade. And Kevin might not like being a mercenary, but the job options for “permanent sword-wielding berserker” are kind of limited. Don’t even get me started on my social life. Let’s just say that any lady who’s interested in a guy holding a weapon in an endless death-grip…well, the odds are good that the goods are odd.
I pulled out a rag and started mopping the not-spider blood off Kevin’s blade. He sobbed quietly.
“I’m done, Uool. I’m just done. I’m tired of being covered in monster blood and guts.”
“Ichor, actually,” I muttered.
“I think these are demons. So it’s ichor, not blood.” It was also eating away at the rag, so I tossed that one away and pulled out another.
“Exactly! This is exactly what I’m talking about! Normal people don’t know what the hell ichor is! Normal people don’t get covered in ichor while killing monsters!”
“Normal people are farmers or blacksmiths or thatchers that can let go of a tool when they’re done using it.” I checked both his edges in the torchlight to make sure I’d gotten all the goop off. “Ok, let’s get moving so we can get this over with.”
“I’m not saying that phrase ever again. If you’re going to fight, you’re going to do it without my help.”
A half-hour of silence found us still picking our way down the steep tunnels into the depths of the cavern. I tried to think of something to say to cheer him up, or at least get him through this job without any more drama. Maybe if I got him focused on the matter at hand, he’d be more cooperative.
“So…uh, I think it really is demons this time.”
Kevin sniffed. “What makes you say that?”
“Those spiders only had six legs and six eyes. And they were huge.”
“Maybe they were beetles.”
“Beetles don’t have fangs.” I scrabbled down a ledge to get to a lower tunnel and managed not to plant him in the dirt. I wasn’t sure if he noticed the courtesy or not. “There were three dozen of them, which doesn’t seem very demonic.”
“Three dozen is thirty-six. That’s six times six.” Kevin was quiet for a few moments as I kept trudging down the passageway. Then he murmured, “I’m still not going to say it.”
“Look, Kev. I can’t promise this will be the last time.” The heat was picking up and I could see a dim red glow in the distance, so I kept my voice low. “I know you hate this, but if we don’t work, I don’t eat. If I don’t eat, then I die and then you’re left laying on the ground. At least we get to see the world, right?”
“What world?” he muttered, sullenly. “The dungeons, crypts, and caves? You won’t even take me out of the scabbard when we’re in town.”
“Guards get nervous when I walk around with a naked blade. It’s even worse when you try to chat up the locals.”
He started to reply, but I shushed him as I came to the entrance of a larger cavern. Shimmering waves of heat rose from pools of lava dotting the floor, and the air was stifling to breathe. In the center of the chamber stood an abomination with the torso of a man grafted onto the abdomen of a giant spider, half again as tall as myself. Presiding over a small army of giant spiders like the ones we’d encountered in the tunnel above, it muttered to them in some unknown language. Their armored bodies covered every surface that wasn’t magma, and the sound of their chittering bored straight into my brain and told me to turn and flee.
I held fast.
“I’m going in. That means you’re going in, too. Be nice if you said the words.”
“This will be all on you, Uool. I’m never saying that hack phrase again.”
“Godsdammit. You’re a sword, Kev. Hack is what you do.”
“Go to hell!”
“Probably sooner than you think.”
I charged into the lava chamber.
Dodging around the hotter parts of the floor, I tried to make my way to the big demon in the center. It pointed at me and howled in unholy rage—then the walls came alive. Not-spiders crawled on top of not-spiders as they surged toward me in a wave of chitin and fangs.
I immediately began a tactical withdraw.
But as I was backpedaling away, I noticed two things. First, the big demon had six legs on its spider bits, and two arms on its torso. Six or eight, make up your mind! Hell must be doing some cut-rate work these days.
The second thing was that as the not-spiders rushed to attack me, they crawled off a massive pile of gold sitting at the abomination’s feet. Glittering in the light of molten rock was the answer to our problems.
“You see that gold, Kevin? That’s retirement. We’ll get a house down on the Emerald Coast and never set foot in a dungeon again.”
“No beaches! Think of the rust!”
“Whatever! Wherever!” The not-spiders were a few yards away.
“Promise this is the last job, Uool?”
“Just say the loving words!”
The battle tide swept over me.
|# ? Mar 27, 2021 01:24|
Two hours left to enter
|# ? Mar 27, 2021 04:54|
THUNDER! —THUNDER! —THUNDERDOME, HOOOOOOO!
“Are you sure you need to move to Minnesota?” I ask my therapist of five years. “It’s cold there.”
She nods. “The house is already all packed.”
I wiped the sweat from my brow. “But what if I have another episode? I need you to stay.”
“You’ll be fine. I’ve given you all the tools you need to succeed, and you’ve made great progress. And Dr. Buchanon will help you.”
“I just feel like there’s something missing, just a few more weeks, I think I could get to the next level with a few more sessions. Maybe there’s a tool you accidentally forgot to give me.”
She sighed. “Well, there is one thing I’ve been holding back. I don’t know if you’re ready for it or not.”
“What is it?”
She hesitates for a second and then pulls an object wrapped in a blanket from under her desk. “It’s the final piece of your journey.” She peels back the blanket and reveals a sword. “I call it therapy sword.”
“How does it work?”
“Well, when you feel overwhelmed and none of your other strategies are working, you pull out the therapy sword and it can help you regain control of the situation.”
She fills me in on how to work it.
I’m over at my brother’s house for my father’s birthday. He hasn’t gotten me a birthday present in a decade but my brother said I had to get him something, so I got a card and wrote my name.
My brother sighs and adds it to the pile of my father’s gifts from the rest of the family. “What’s that?” he says, pointing to the therapy sword wrapped in a blanket.
“Something to help me stay calm.”
“Oh god, Kevin, you’re not going to have one of your little freakouts are you?”
I shake my head.
He groans and walks away.
I sit by myself and eat cookies and try not to get too many crumbs on therapy sword. Dr. Rose said not to get it wet or dirty or I’d ruin it.
My mother is carrying a casserole and stops by the table. “Kevin, you’re not going to make a scene are you? Your brother said you were acting weird again.”
“I’m fine mom.”
“Ok, because I don’t want to have to call Dr. Rose and tell her you’re acting up.”
“She moved away.”
“Oh that’s such a shame. Was it something you did?”
“No, her husband got a job in Duluth.”
“Kevin, I don’t know where that is.”
“Oh, why would she move there? It’s so cold there. How awful.”
My sister poked her head in from the other room. “Maybe he’s Santa Claus.”
Mom laughs at my sister’s joke and leaves with her casserole.
“Hey idiot, what’s that?” asks my sister, pointing to the sword.
“It’s something to help me stay calm.”
“Oh yeah, Danny said you were gonna have another freakout. Remember when you punched dad in the stomach because he said your cartoon was for girls?”
“That was pretty funny. Then you had to go to a shrink, huh?”
“It wasn’t that funny to me.”
“God, you have no sense of humor. You didn’t even laugh at my Santa Claus joke.”
I take another bite of cookie and gently stroke the therapy sword’s hilt. That’s not how it works to calm me down, but it still helps a bit.
“This is why nobody likes you. Whatever.” She storms off in a huff.
I don’t mind. I didn’t even want to come. Now I’m hoping I can just sit and eat my cookies and watch father unwrap his stupid presents and then I can go home where nobody will bother me.
Almost as if he hears my pleas to the universe to be left alone, my brother comes back into the dining room. “Hey, I opened that card you gave father, and I threw it away. You need to go buy him an appropriate one.”
I take a deep breath and count to 10, like Dr. Rose taught me. “Why did you open it, Danny, that wasn’t to you.”
“I know that nuance and complexity aren't exactly your strong suit, but the card you got him was for a little girl.”
“I thought it was funny,” I say, trying not to smile. “And you shouldn’t open other people’s gifts. You should mind your own business.”
He rolls his eyes. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t gently caress it up. All you had to do is get a birthday card for a grown man. They have a whole section for ‘Father Birthday.’ It’s not a complicated task and the fact that your flaccid brain wasn't able to wrap its little mind-tendrils around it speaks to your laziness more than anything.”
I spent hours looking through the cards to find the one that said what I wanted. “Go get the card out of the trash. It’s not yours.”
My sister hears the commotion and heads back into the room. “loving excuse me? You're going to have a brawl without me?”
I stand up and point at her. “Go away Kaitlin, nobody was even talking to you.”
She cracks her knuckles. “I THINK NOT.”
“Mom!” I yell. “Kaitlin won’t leave us alone.”
My mom yells back from the other room. “Jesus Christ, Kevin, you’re 34 years old, settle your own problems.”
Danny and Kaitlin are both standing on the other side of the table and my father saunters into the room behind them. He peers out from behind their shoulders, practically hiding from me. “I’ll get in on this cage match, what we yelling at him for?”
“Because he’s an inconsiderate prick,” says Danny.
“And too serious all the time.”
“Ah, come on, Kevin, why do you treat your family like this?” says my father. “Why do you have to come and ruin my birthday with all of your issues. You know Danny didn’t even want to invite you but I told him to do it, I stuck up for you. You’re making me look like a real dick.”
“He opened the present I got you.”
Danny turned to my father. “I wanted to make sure it was appropriate.”
“No, it was garbage.”
The therapy sword doesn’t work unless you know the magic phrase. I reach under the blanket and grip the sword by the hilt, pulling it out in one smooth motion and pointing it over the table of treats at my brother, sister, and father. “APOLOGIZE!” I shout, and the sword trembles in my hand with power.
“What the hell, Kevin?!” says Kaitlin.
I take a step toward them. “Go get my present out of the trash and loving apologize to me.”
“Ok man, chill,” says Danny. “I’ll go get the stupid card, don’t do anything crazy.”
“Fine, I’m sorry I went through your poo poo.” He turns and walks out of the room.
I sit back down and put the therapy sword away under the blanket. The rest of my family stands in silence for a bit, and I can hear Danny in the other room going through the garbage.
“Uh, so that’s a nice sword you got,” says my father.
“Thanks,” I say in between bites of cookie. “It’s to keep me calm.”
“Is it working?” he asks.
“Well that’s good, I guess.”
Danny comes back in from the kitchen and hands father my card. “Sorry, it’s got a bit of frosting on it.”
My father takes the card and looks at it for a second, then reads it out loud. “Any man can be a father, it takes a special person to be a dad.” He opens the card and continues. “Love, your daughter.”
The room is quiet until I begin to laugh. “Now that, Kaitlin, is a good joke,” I say.
My dad looks like I punched him in the stomach again, and I gather my things and head outside. I walk to the bus stop and clutch the therapy sword to my chest. I didn’t even want to come anyway.
|# ? Mar 27, 2021 07:46|
Part 1: The over-elaborate set-up
It was Elaine’s idea, originally, which should have told Guinevere all she needed to know: it was a bad idea. But like so many bad ideas, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Simple: she would trade her courtly gowns and crown for the humble, masculine(ish) garb of a squire, and accompany her husband, the king, on one of his various quests. Being her husband, Arthur would, of course, immediately recognize the truth behind the disguise, appreciate Gwen’s pluck, and the way her rear looked in tights, and thus have both more respect and
But it did not, dear reader, it did not lead to Romance at all. For Arthur did not recognize Gwen at all, and even when she said:
“My lord Arthur, ’tis I, Guin—“
He interrupted with “Ah, yes, of course, Gawain—hope you didn’t think I can’t recognize my own nephew,” and what could she say to that?
Also, that was when he fell of his horse. Gwen decided—and I don’t think there are many among us who will dispute her wisdom here—that such an
“Good thing old Gwenie can’t see me now, eh, Gawain?”
I mean, really, ‘old Gwenie?’ Who says things like that? Especially about their wife who is over a decade younger. He’d certainly never say that to her face, and so the only solution was to not reveal that her face, was, in fact, her face.
What was I saying?
Oh right, King Arthur had just fallen off his horse for the first time in this story. Spoiler alert: It happens again.
“My lord Arthur,” gasped Gwen, hurrying to her husband, where he sprawled in the grass, “are you injured?”
“Oh, no, happens all the time, my boy,” said King Arthur dismissively, which did not at all dismiss any of Gwen’s misgivings. To the contrary. Without sitting up, he began frantically patting the grass all around him. “Where is my sword?” he cried. “I can’t find Excalibur!”
Two things happened then, first a muffled voice began saying something incomprehensible from underneath Arthur’s back, and second a rend in the fabric of spacetime appeared next to him, offering a shimmering view of, presumably, another dimension.
“What in the seven hells?” said Gwen. A reasonable question, if you ask me.
“Oh, that’s just the rend-in-spacetime-thing this sword does,” said Arthur. “Looks neat, right?”
Also it conveniently explains how King Arthur could know the term spacetime!
“Looking neat” is not the first quality that came to Gwen’s mind when she learned of the sword’s ability. “Horribly dangerous” was first, with “terribly dangerous,” and “incredibly dangerous” coming second and third. Her fourth thought was that her husband absolutely should not be carrying this sword. She helped him sit up, and quickly grabbed it out from under him.
“My lord Arthur, as your squire, it is my responsibility to care for your weapons until they are needed. Please allow me to humbly carry this blade for you,” she said, because she thought it was the kind of nonsense a squire would say, and she was right! Having satisfied the forms of chivalry, Arthur gave up the sword into her care without any fuss, and she and several woodland creatures, 87 beetle-type insects, 943 ants, and an unquantifiable mycorrhizal network all breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“Wait, this isn’t Excalibur!” she said, examining it.
Two things happened then, first, the whole spacetime rending thing again, and second, a voice emanated from the sword saying:
“Your catchphrase is too easy to guess. Please reset your sword with a stronger catchphrase.”
Arthur sighed. “All of them say that now.”
“What do you mean, all of them?” asked Gwen.
“All my magic swords. I couldn’t keep them all straight, so I just call them all Excalibur, and then to activate them, you just have to yell ‘Excalibur!’ It’s so much easier.”
“Your catchphrase is too easy to guess,” said the sword, who was not actually Excalibur, “Please reset your sword with a stronger catchphrase.” Also the shimmery thing again. Turns out, the various other lifeforms in the forest had breathed their sigh of relief prematurely, as this time 2,000 invisible purple poison ants from another dimension silently and invisibly marched through the rend in spacetime and began systematically attacking the native flora and fauna.
Part 2: The Mostly Stationary Action
Now it came to pass that King Arthur and his trusty squire Gawain, who, as I’m sure you haven’t forgotten, is actually his wife Guinevere in disguise, came upon the clearing in the woods where a Benedictine monastery previously stood. Now it was empty except a few insipid wildflowers, a large oak tree, and a ring of orange mushrooms that circled the entire area. A woman appeared, with long black hair that writhed around her like tendrils of the milky way, and a set of black diaphanous wings that shimmered (not coincidentally) like the rends in spacetime, and Gwen knew immediately she must be Morgan la Fey. The wings and mushrooms are pretty much dead giveaways for that sort of thing.
“Never fear, dear lady,” cried King Arthur, “I shall save you from the menacing giant!”
“Oh, it’s you,” said Morgana, and stopped with all the impressive magic business.
“Lend me my sword, dear squire, so I that I may vanquish yon menacing giant!”
As far as the two women could tell, he was referring to the tree. Gwen handed him her perfectly normal, non-magical sword, and prayed that he would be out of range by the time he yelled “Excalibur!”
He was not.
“Your catchphrase is too easy to guess,” said the magic sword. “Please reset your sword with a stronger catchphrase.” A five-dimensional rabbit hopped imperceptibly into the world.
“What the hell?” said Morgana.
“If you return the monastery, and the monks you presumably kidnapped, I promise to never explain it to you,” Gwen said.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” said Morgana. They still have a lot of work to do.”
“How long will it take?” Gwen asked. She was willing to be reasonable about this, after all.
“A couple centuries at most,” said Morgana, who
“Yeah, no, that’s not going to work for us,” said Gwen.
“Too bad?” said Morgana. “It’s not like you can follow me to fairyland and rescue them.”
Gwen sighed and yelled “Excalibur!”
Shimmer shimmer, and she was in fairyland, inside the monastery, surrounded by kidnapped monks who desperately needed to be rescued.
“Your catchphrase is too—“
“What in the seven hells are they forcing you to do?” asked Gwen, not nearly loud enough to drown out the sword. And actually, it looked like they were just doing what monks normally do, all scribing things and whatever, who knows, Gwen didn’t hang out in a lot of monasteries.
“Paperwork,” said the nearest monk.
“The Fae Department of Transportation has a massive maintenance report backlog,” elaborated Morgana unhelpfully.
“You can’t just kidnap monks and make them do the work for you, though!”
“Of course we can. We are literally doing it right now.”
She disappeared again. Gwen yelled “Excalibur!” again, and found herself in a similar monastery, but made entirely of flowers.
“Your catchphrase is—“
Morgana was already disappearing again.
“I can do this all day, Morgana,” Gwen said, then yelled “Excalibur!”
Gwen didn’t know it, but this was the same dimension that the five-dimensional rabbit came from. This happened several more times, and they visited many wondrous places such as the Starlit Ice Dimension and the Crab Dimension, and did not appreciate them all. Gwen yelled “Excalibur!” so many times that the thing happened where “Excalibur” stopped sounding like a real word and just became an implausible collection of syllables. And they both heard the bit about needing a stronger catch phrase so many times that their ears were starting to bleed in protest. No one likes bloody ears, but no one wants to go to the Q-tip dimension, either, so Morgana finally gave up and agreed to give the monks back.
And that’s how Gwen saved a hundred monks in an epic battle of wills against the faerie queen while King Arther attacked a tree and fell of his horse.
Part 3: The Bad Punchline
“Okay, Sword,” said Gwen, “set new catchphrase: Guinevere is Awesome!”
“A strong catchphrase should be at least fourteen characters, and include at least one upper and lower case letter, a number, and a special character,” said the sword. “Please choose a stronger catchphrase.”
“What in the seven hells?!” said Gwen.
“Catchphrase accepted,” said the sword.
|# ? Mar 27, 2021 07:58|
Sondra Quatrain (1943 - 2021)
In the summer of 1973, Sondra Quatrain crested a sun-warmed rocky hillock in the Harlaa region of Ethiopia three miles south of a newly discovered 12th century mosque. Spread out before her was rough terrain: terraced slopes with scrubby grasses, drooping brownish-green shrubs, and the ubiquitous pyracantha coccinea, then in bloom with small bursts of bright red berries. She was searching for more artifacts when she turned her ankle—and as she sat down to gather herself, she noticed a strange, round rock, slightly dun colored, and lighter than the surrounding landscape.
That rock turned out to be a clay pot. Tucked inside was a wax-sealed leather case of intricate and startling design that protected a tightly rolled scroll made from a material similar to Greek papyrus. It was the discovery of a lifetime.
That’s how I like to imagine it happened. One big, gorgeous vista, and an accident that would send Quatrain down a spiraling hole of never-ending paranoia and obsession.
It wasn’t immediately clear how important Quatrain’s discovery was until months later, after the artifact had been dated back to the 1st century BCE. The text was written in Middle Persian, and Quatrain worked tirelessly with several notable scholars to produce the definitive translation. The incredible text was read for the first time in public by Quatrain in a lavish ceremony sponsored by the Smithsonian Museum. CLICK HERE to read the story for yourself, but in short: a young girl travels a long distance to unclog a pipe at the bottom of a lake in order to restore running water to a city. It’s a strangely modern narrative, and I always found it quite beautiful and moving. But the story itself didn’t interest Quatrain, except for one detail. She’d never heard of a place called Verash before, and the more Quatrain studied the scroll, the more she was convinced that she’d discovered an advanced civilization.
Most scholars I spoke with dismissed the issue entirely. Some claimed the word “Verash” was a mistranslation of “Carthage” from the ancient Hebrew. Others believed the story was simply fiction.
Quatrain ignored her critics. She began to hunt for Verash. Because of her new fame, she was able to secure several lucrative grants, and dragged a team of graduate students all across Africa, Asia, and South America in search of more clues. Not much survived from those trips aside from vague rumors about wild shrieking and fits of rage, and thousands of wasted dollars, washed down the drain on a hunch.
Verash did not reveal itself, and after seven years, the money disappeared. Quatrain was forced to return home to the University of East London, where she attempted to resign herself to the life of a relatively famous academic. From interviews I’ve read, and email exchanges with students she had at the time, it’s clear that Quatrain struggled to acclimate to civilian life again. There were fights with faculty members, screaming matches at committee meetings, baffling and impossible assignments, long disjointed lectures about lost ancient cities and cultures, most of which bordered on the bizarre.
Her tenure was denied, and she was fired in 1985 after allegedly calling Chancellor Benedict Sanguine a “fat old alligator with a small cock.”
Quatrain fell into a deep despair, but her obsession with Verash never flagged. She bounced between regional colleges before leaving academia entirely. In the 90s, as the internet rose to prominence, she began posting feverishly on various message boards. In 1994, she renounced her British citizenship due to “political differences with the Queen” and moved to America. She worked as a waitress at various IHOPs across Illinois to support her obsession for the remainder of her life.
The Verashni movement coalesced around Quatrain’s ceaseless posting. I won’t go into detail, since everyone’s familiar with their beliefs by now, but those early days focused mainly on the city, and the violence and racism we’re most familiar with now hadn’t yet taken over the group. Quatrain helped raise funds for several trips with her followers to African in those days, trekking through uncharted deserts, and never finding anything of value.
But Quatrain was undaunted. She believed Verash was out there, and for the next thirty years, she dedicated her life to uncovering the truth. That led her down some very dark alleys: human biodiversity theories, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and radical violent oppression of journalists, which culminated in the murder of reporter Roger James in 2006 by one of her most ardent followers. Through it all, Quatrain remain devoted to the city of Verash, even while her Verashni group broke down into conspiracy theory and terrorism.
She died of heart failure at the age of 78 on March 3rd, 2021. It’s likely that she had little to no involvement with the Verashni movement in her final decade, as her followers further radicalized and her health deteriorated. Still, during her incredible life, she wrote millions of words on the city, published several books and papers, doggedly followed her hunch, and carried her conviction into the grave, despite everything.
There’s no evidence that Verash exists. Most scholars agree that the city was a fabrication. But Quatrain’s obsession spawned a movement, which morphed into a radically violent extremist group, and the deaths of at least ten people stain her hands. I find her story fascinating—how one woman could fall from the heights of her profession, and find herself down in the dreck of humanity, still clinging to her dreams despite the obvious truth: Verash never existed, and never would. But Quatrain didn’t care what the world thought, and according to an email exchange with the nurse that was by her side during her final moments, Quatrain died with the city’s name on her lips.
|# ? Mar 28, 2021 10:23|
THUNDER —THUNDER —THUNDER —THUNDERDOME HOOOOOOOOOO
Once Hawklad had thrown down his gauntlet, no fewer than three accepted his challenge. In the end, the challenger himself emerged victorious, though not unscathed, in this particular swordfight.
Arise, Hawklad, victor of the swordbrawl!
Now for the crits:
Hawklad - 1419 Danzig
What Was This Story About?
Elwein lives in a failing asteroid colony, which is imperiled by large alien entities known as jackals. She uses a sword made from the shard of a jackal, which is imbued with her mother’s sapience, to fight a jackal. Once she has secured victory, she reflects on the purpose of fighting against the odds, as she walks back to her sleeping daughter.
There’s strong themes of inheritance and intergenerational relations throughout.
A Few Individual Points I Noticed
Upshaft, through the airlock and onto the surface. She held Mother low as her purple magboots crunched across the regolith of the asteroid. Yet another invader.
Sometimes your descriptions are quite vague. I feel like it took a very long time to finally get a picture of the asteroid base and what exactly a jackal is.
they’d chosen her mother, to honor her sacrifice in the docking bay. Now it was Elwein whose patience was being sacrificed.
This didn’t particularly land. I do like the ongoing theme of inheritance that runs throughout the piece. What was attempted in this line is great, but the delivery didn’t carry it in this instance. Patience being ...sacrificed? It feels clunky to me.
The action in this story is both great and has issues. The first time I read this, I struggled to visualise the Jackal or what it was. Also, when you write, “This one was quicker than the others” it had me thinking there were multiple Jackals in this particular fight.
No time to think, a flash and the alien was on them...
Reading it again, the pacing and the action itself are just enough to be awesome and exciting (and “just enough” is the perfect amount when you’re trying to be fast paced). That’s a good job. The only issue is a few descriptions that could be improved to give less ambiguity.
You played the prompt straight. I liked that —a lot. You didn’t fall into the trap of trying to do something too clever or too cute with this genre (one that thrives on action and being cool, which you brought in spades).
You also injected a strong theme into the story: inheritance, and generational dialogue. It provided some relatable grounding to this story that is ostensibly about space aliens and heroes in skintight suits.
Overall this was quite enjoyable. It suffered for a few ambiguous or strange phrases (mentioned earlier).
Weltlich - Cut Rate
What Was This Story About?
A man called Uool and a sapient blade called Kevin are bound together by a wizard’s curse. Uool has difficulty finding work in this condition and ends up killing at the request of various townsfolk, including priests.
Kevin has the ability to create a “battle tide” if he speaks the magical words “Uool Yeah”, but is reluctant to say them. This creates tension as the Uool and the blade are endangered by insectoid demons. In the end, they wade into combat against a demon who is guarding great treasure, which may be enough to pay Uool and Kevin’s way through life without further work.
A Few Individual Points I Noticed
“Say it, Kevin.” I readied my sword as the torchlight glinted off their countless eyes. I tried to remember how many eyes spiders had. Eight legs, eight eyes—that sounded right.
I struggled to follow who is speaking at times, and I think this is because of a combination of things. You go against usual expectations (the sword says the magic words, the sword has an ordinary name and an ordinary character). The dialogue isn’t attributed either until you reach this point here where the narrator indicates Kevin as the other speaker. None of these things is individually bad, and I enjoyed the play on the usual circumstances of a story like this, but throwing each of those elements all at once had me doubting who was who. I think this story needed something at the very start that says “I am Uool and Kevin is my sword” in a way that’s hard to question.
My point is that to a cleric, every problem is a demon problem.
Your characterisation of Uool is strong. You’ve managed to inhabit the mind of a slightly dim or average person in a way that’s convincing. His giving up on counting all of the eyes, and dismissing clerics in this way, all works quite well.
This was fun, and I think one of the strengths that shines throughout this piece is the relationship between Uool and Kevin. I also like that there are stakes in this piece that are more human and relatable than the obvious threat to life. A sense of powerlessness and being made to work are something most people will relate to, I’m sure.
You’ve given me a lot of dialogue here, and it’s enough for me to suggest something for your writing. In this dialogue, your characters are mostly talking plainly and achieving (or attempting) only one thing when they talk. That’s not a bad thing, but really great dialogue often has people not directly saying what they mean. They have ulterior motives, or even shoot more than one bird with a stone by saying things with double meanings or even saying things that act as non dialogue elements of the story like descriptions. There’s nothing wrong with plain dialogue, but it’s always cool to see a writer do something more with dialogue, especially if there’s going to be this much of it in a story.
Crabrock - Self-soothing
What Was This Story About?
Kevin’s therapist leaves town, giving him a “therapy sword” before she leaves. He then visits his family on the occasion of his father’s birthday, where they all bully him for apparently girlish behaviour and having what they call “issues.” This culminates in a scene where they are all going to gang up on Kevin, only for him to draw his therapy sword and demand that his brother apologise for throwing out the card he was about to give his father. The family are intimidated by the sword and play out the birthday to Kevin’s wishes until he leaves.
A Few Individual Points I Noticed
There are parts where this story reads like a first draft. The various characters and pieces are described in plain language with no detail or flair: a mother, a casserole and a table (and a therapy sword and a bus and siblings). You gave Minnesota more sense than most of the characters here.
My mother is carrying a casserole and stops by the table.
The gendered themes of this story add to how uncomfortable it is. I don’t mean that in a bad way. This story is meant to be odd, uncomfortable and full of downright dysfunctional people. The potential implications of this line, and the question mark that hangs over renouncing this as a joke, really throw a punch.
“Love, your daughter.”
Conceptually, I think you did a great job to push the limits of this prompt and create a story that’s an experience to read. I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t personally like the idea, because I was personally wanting some dumb cheesy popcorn stories like He-Man, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge a writing contest on taste more than skill and execution. I like how you took this very strange and uncomfortable concept and somehow made it work as a piece of art. I believe this story is everything it intends to be: an uncomfortable and odd experience to think about. The main thing that feels lacking are details or something to describe the people and the scenery.
Excalibur! - Dr. Kloctopussy
What Was This Story About?
Gwen, King Arthur’s wife, disguises herself as a squire to adventure with her husband. Arthur, not seeing through the disguise, falls off his horse and loses his sword briefly. It opens holes in spacetime which various creatures crawl through. Then there’s a fey who’s stealing some monks in an alternate dimension which happens to link to the sword’s dimension, and Gwen chases the fey through several dimensions this way. Meanwhile Arthur is stuck chasing trees while Gwen learns more about the magic sword and its password requirements. In the end, her exclamation of “what in the seven hells?” meets the password requirements, the end.
I’m not going to pick at this story in depth because we talked on Discord. I liked how wild this story was, though, and it was great to have such a wacky story to contrast some of the others we got. The pieces of this story just didn’t quite come together in the end, though.
|# ? Mar 28, 2021 14:22|
Thanks for the crits! I enjoyed all the stories that arose from this brawl, good game everyone.
|# ? Mar 28, 2021 19:19|
Who Had Written This?
On the morning of the 3rd of May 1949, the residents and habitual commuters of central London discovered, to some surprise, that during the night a great many pamphlets had been distributed and deposited everywhere. These pamphlets, printed uniformly on textured green paper and bound at least semi-professionally, were found stacked on empty seats on train carriages, hidden behind mechanical magazines at newsagents, or simply waving invitingly in the wind over the Thames, sometimes flittering down to wallow like lily pads in the water below. On the cover, in bold black text, were the worlds ‘The Masters Dream’ and a sub-header consisting simply of a roman numeral. If one were to pick up one of these pamphlets and rifle through the contents, they would find a good 10 to 12 pages on which was printed the outlines of a grand conspiracy.
Upon completing his reading of the I-marked pamphlet he had to hand, a curious Londoner might scratch his chin and notice that the man standing next to him was himself poring over a pamphlet marked with a II, or even a IV or VII. These two might cross-examine their respective texts, and, now in the style of a cunning detective, find yet another two or three pedestrians who had gathered on the other side of the road discussing their own findings, and the streets would suddenly bloom with little gatherings of the bemused, inquisitive, and the incredulous. Independently, each of them might well laugh or gasp or raise an eyebrow when the general ‘plot’ of the pamphlets had been surmised. What follows is that summation.
Sometime between the dates April 21st and 27th 1945, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the Nazi SS, made contact and began secret negotiations with Allied forces under command of General Eisenhower, attempting to sway the Western nations to rally against the encroaching Soviet Union with the support of the SS and what was left of the Wehrmacht. Contrary to the official story, Himmler was able by some means – relating somehow to an unpublished novel by a Ukrainian schoolmaster – to convince his opposite numbers to a form of collaboration between the SS and the Allies, although not an open one. Rather than driving east together against the Soviets, the SS would operate in secrecy, as stay-behind groups embedded across Western Europe. These cells would remain dormant – “sleeping”, in the pamphlet’s own words – to activate in the eventuality of a Red takeover. Waffen-SS units populated by non-German recruits would seemingly demobilise, but a select few would make up the core cadre of these cells – though it is unclear if all cell members are Waffen-SS or if recruitment occurs any other way. Such cells were currently present in London, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Belfast, Edinburgh, Dundee, and other British population centres – to say nothing of the multitude of cities on the continent which purportedly house this Fifth Column. Their activation due to a Soviet-backed Communist uprising in the UK was forthcoming. This was the final missive.
General public opinion on the matter was one mostly of befuddlement. The honourable members of Parliament were silent on the matter so not to give undue attention to some twisted prank or off-taste hoax, despite the leaflets being stacked right outside their place of work. Fleet Street and the Attlee government kept mum on the topic. In the following weeks the presence of the Metropolitan Police was noticeably higher.
“Pull yourself together, Marlowe.” The Major’s command was hushed, like he was scared to speak. I think he was still looking at it, but I was looking at the sick that I had just retched on my boot and the outpost floor. I steeled myself, muttered an apology, and raised my eyes back to the prisoner. Splayed on the floor was the man in civvies that the patrol had brought in a few hours before. The cyanide froth still coated his mouth, his eyes were open. Out of his head had crawled his double, exactly alike, rising to his feet confidently, the air around him humming. His eyes were indigo, and he was wearing his black uniform with all the regalia. The figure spoke, in English.
“This is the power I spoke of.” He looked around the small room and landed his gaze on each of us in turn, the medics, the Major, and myself. “This is the secret of Thule that was buried in those pages. I am the Reichsführer’s doppelgänger. I am a dream of the Aryan man. I am the dream of the Master.”
My heart was racing. Dimly, I became aware of the Major muttering orders; “God’s sake, Marlowe, get your gun out. And stay here. I have to go talk to the higher ups.”
The pistol in my hand felt like a toy. I was in that room hours with that man. He didn’t speak, but I understood.
JG Ballard’s 1982 short story collection Myths of the Near Future includes two non-fiction tales. The first, the semi-autobiographical ‘The Dead Time’ recounts Ballard’s childhood experiences in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during WW2. The second, ‘Theatre of War’, is more impersonal, instead collating transcripts of news broadcasts during the Second British Civil War; bizarrely, the author’s preface refers to his writing on the conflict as if he had “cast it in the form of a TV documentary,” implying that the work is fictional. Much of the text deals with the human cost of the brutal proxy war waged by both the US and USSR, the former propping up the unstable civilian government whose main strongholds were the cities, and the latter supporting the workers militias, who waged a People’s War from the countryside.
Within the text is a passage transcribing a little-remembered segment of rolling footage captured by an Australian news team during the ‘76 summer offensive; retreating from an artillery strike, they find refuge in an empty Portsmouth home. The terraced house, which from the outside showed no obvious difference to any of its neighbours, on the inside resembles a barracks. On the mantle of a burnt-out fireplace, unlit candles - and a small framed picture. Examining the picture, the reporter sees an old photograph of a man. The man has Down’s syndrome. He is smiling, and wearing overalls. He’s hugging what looks like a bundle of papers to his chest. In the corner, words are written in fine cursive; ‘I’ll make this up to you – M.’ In front of the bunks, tall leather boots, military in style. Above the bunks, dreamcatchers. The beds are unmade. A cameraman reaches out, running his fingers across the fabric. He remarks with surprise that the sheets are still warm, but his words are near-drowned out by the sound of distant shelling.
|# ? Mar 28, 2021 20:41|
Opinions on Fiction, by Albert Albert
“Does the ending even really matter? If the outcome is already known, then no,” Albert Albert wrote. Does that even make sense, he thought as he leaned back in his office chair? The essay on Violet Flowers of an Empire by Edith Masunaga was already three weeks overdue. The argument, as Albert Albert remembered pitching to his editor, was that the generalized literary criticism against Masunaga, and her fabled samurai protagonist Aramoro, was unfounded. In truth, Albert Albert had been complaining flippantly, to his editor, about trends in bandwagoning amongst whom he referred to as lazy Campbellians, unable to look past the ‘Hero’s Journey’ when analyzing any literary work prior to Campbell’s opinions. Had he heard himself prattling on, he would have turned his eyes away and stared at his shoes.
Instead, his editor clutched the sides of pâtisserie table, eyes wide with controversy dollars, and fervently and sagely nodded along to all of Albert’s barbs. The attention fueled Albert’s bravado, and now he was in quite a pickle. Albert Albert sat at this writing desk, his feet kicked up, slippers depositing debris on the scratch pad.
The essay had actually started with quite some momentum, nearly a month and a half ago. Albert was incredibly pleased with himself; his double espresso had gone cold as he hammered away on establishing the base common ground in the essay. Both he and Masunaga’s detractors agreed that Aramoro started very plainly upon an archetypical Hero’s Journey. Masunaga had even been one of the prototypical novelists of the time to start in media res, opening the with Aramoro’s castle overrun, his lord slain, and the prince abducted. Who had accomplished such a crime? We, the audience, did not know, but Aramoro clearly did and was on the move.
With the opening ground established, Albert was able to dive into the next section, and the start of the divergences. Early grumblings can be even seen in some post-hoc reflections, only after, of course, the bandwagon had achieved terminal trundling, regarding Aramoro’s refusing the call. Now a ronin, Aramoro was not particularly influential among the lord’s retinue, and thus did not originally embark on the rescue quest. Only upon arriving at a destitute, war-stricken vassal-town of his previous lord does Aramoro resolve to rescue the prince to correct his lordship’s mistakes.
In all respects, a blind reading of Violet Flowers of an Empire would under no circumstances pre-empt any suspicion that the hero’s journey was going to be interrupted. Any critic using this moment in time to begin to formulate their argument is disingenuous at best, insufferably know-it-all at worst, Albert Albert clacked away.
But the breaking of Aramoro’s sword, and the lack of mention or assistance from the vassal-town, stumped Albert. This was the seminal moment that influenced the contemporary criticisms. That after he repairs his broken blade, he encounters a pair of oni harassing travelers, and becomes embroiled in a rather lengthy side-track, further strengthens the literary sideways glances towards Masunaga.
Albert Albert found himself starting and stopping. Starting and stopping again. And before long, what he had thought of to be a quick, off-the-cuff refutation of lazy writers, was now turning into his own lazy albatross. Not dead, just hanging from his neck, much like the hammock in his backyard in which he frequently napped during the last several weeks. The albatross, much like himself, had a penchant for Kit Kats and dark beers, which the sober Albert believed would help induce creativity, that the slightly inebriated Albert used to excuse his inattentiveness, and what drunken Albert leveraged to nap in the sun.
Wanting to at least engage with Masunaga’s chief critic, Ernst Gadwell, Albert felt there would be an improved legitimacy to his argument. Gadwell once wrote, ‘in chapter 15, Aramoro breaks his sword again, and instead of pursuing the saboteur (who while the audience is never told this, must clearly be a former compatriot of Aramoro, one responsible for the sacking of Ninkatoshi), Aramoro restarts any semblance of what could constitute the hero’s journey. Aramoro is a broken wheel.’
Albert Albert again found himself unable to transition from this recurring pattern to a succinct conclusion. Gadwell had every right to his impatience. So, he skipped it.
To Albert Albert, Aramoro was both on the hero’s journey and not on the journey. In contrast of the critics, Aramoro’s journey is narratively actually much closer to the millennial sex-concept of edging than it is the hero’s journey, as a physical representation. This edging is usurping this hero’s journey, with its own repeated cycle. And this edging is in reality just a usurpation of the hippy generation’s concept of tantric sex, which that almost assuredly was also appropriated by some previous sex pervert’s cultish chicanery.
These restarting cycles would appear linearly as a sequence of tangential circles, Aramoro leaping from journey to the next, never completing a satisfying narrative arc. But if thought of non-linearly, the continued pattern can be bent, and curled, into a greater cycle, each leg mimicked, but different, and would be sufficient to de-necessitate an ending. And so Violet Flowers of an Empire abruptly ends. Aramoro finds himself still chasing after the kidnapped prince, forever. But not. We know the outcome. Aramoro has demonstrated time and time again, he is capable of the duty, skill, and compassion to surmount every obstacle, no matter how ‘far’ this obstacle is from a technical end. Thus, we know how this ends.
Albert Albert then found himself contemplating. Does the ending even really matter?
|# ? Mar 29, 2021 00:27|
|# ? Apr 11, 2021 04:31|
Decision on Morell, Dietrichzur and al-Bokhari (845 words)
To support my decision, I present the following excerpts.
Infinity-in-Finity, by “Otto Dietrichzur Linde”
I shall begin by quoting the beginning of Part-of-Parts.
Parts-of-Parts by “Lazarus Morell”
0. BORGES (BORGES’ Original Recursively Generated Essays and Stories) was infinite, and it died. To say that it was a “Nothing times nothing,” as al-Bokhari attested, would be a joke.
1. If you have two Items, you have three Ways of picking them: i) pick the first; ii) pick the second; iii) pick both at once. Thus, the basket of Ways will always be larger than the basket of Items.
2. By 1, we selected some parts from the infinite BORGES and got a collection of parts, a “part-of-parts”, that’s part of both BORGES and a bigger-than-BORGES collection. By talking to it, we seek from this part-of-parts information of how BORGES was killed, destroyed, or scrambled. We named these parts-of-parts in this format: a-BORG, b-BORG, and so on.
4. The first part-of-parts, a-BORG, did not respond, a failure of a start.
5. b-BORG responded to our questions as such (details in Appendix 8):
Did you know who killed you?
The millionaire ascetic, Ezra Buckley
How did you die?
A knife sinks into a belly
Where did it happen?
Up in the south, up around Guadalupe Lake and Boabdil
6. Thus b-BORG was meaningless, as those were all quotations from Borges’ work: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius; The Approach to al-Mu’tasim; and Monk Eastman on Pink Corner.
7. We can easily dispose of any part-of-Parts.
8. We proceeded to extract more parts-of-parts, and once we reached the end of the alphabet, we moved on to aa-BORG. The end of this group of 26 and the next proved equally pointless.
9. The next group were better, and near its end we reached an independently thinking part-of-parts. Speaking in quite a robotic tone, it replied (Appendix 9):
What does it feel to be infinite?
Eternal distraction. Stray thoughts with no end generate more endless stray thoughts, each with indenumerable distractions. All a dense mass of stray minds with no endpoints.
We call it the cy-BORG.
The authors of the Part-of-Parts should have known by this point that their whole endeavour was a joke: they have mistaken Ways with Items. There would always be more Ways than Items, true, but Ways resemble Items only in their names. Each Item of the BORGES (Biography of the Original, Repeatedly Gathered with Exacting Synergy) had a Content, an exact description of Jorge Luis Borges’ life – such as his mental state during The Happy Prince translation, or his brain cells during the 1938 head injury, the sensations of finishing writing Deacon Borges – and a Title. If the Content was sufficiently expansive, the Title split into two: A) A summary of the Content, which can be confused with the Content of a smaller Item; B) An outline of the summary, the true Title of the Item. Compared to this, Ways possessed merely one subject: its Title and Content are both the corresponding Item’s Title.
What Morell had accomplished in 919 exhausting points was not the investigation of post-existence BORGES, like interpreting a novel, but an ‘analysis’ into the mere listing of its titles, an exploration of the table of contents, a meticulous act into meaninglessness. Part-of-Parts is thus merely a table of table of contents, an index-of-indices. Even if it was a work of art, its worth as forensic investigation of BORGES’ death will only be minimal.
We would like to probe deeper into the infinitude of BORGES. This paper would focus on the impact of losing BORGES. At first glance this should resemble the loss of a person. After all, BORGES is a sequence of evidence without end, an infinitary logical proof of Jorge Luis Borges. A series of arguments, all ending in the very simple, very finite conclusion of “Jorge Luis Borges”. Thus BORGES’ death is a repeat of June 14 of 1986, surely?
However, BORGES is not Borges. BORGES came from Borges, and it also solidified Borges. By simple substitution, BORGES came from BORGES, which is itself a solidied BORGES. By its infinitude, BORGES created itself. Thus its life had exceeded Borges’, BORGES had no parents but itself, and in its death left a complete void purer than Borges’. How could this finite world sustain an infinite loss? Any look into anything showed the world still existed, thus the world still remained after being reduced by infinity. Thus, the world is infinite. BORGES’ death had conquered physics, and showed to us that there was no limit to this world.
After perusing the preceding three works: Part-of-Parts, Infinity-in-Finity, and Nothing-by-Nothing, I have judged that the circular nature of their debate, the needlessly protracted arguments, were failed attempts at portraying infinity but without either the depth or the warmth. I have judged also that their research did not prove useful in forensic investigations. I thereby decide that Morell, Linde and al-Bokhari are to be excluded from the Library.
Bureau of Organizing Research of the Great Everlasting Scribe
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