Kartul, Javier and Helen
I felt the piece had its own internal inconsistencies. Kartul has regrets, spoken in first person, indicates he placed the writing there (though, someone else could have done that, but I don't think so), but he is still surrounded by weapons, armor, regalia. There are many engravings and the tomb is hand hewn, so his clan were responsible for creating it at least. That he is alone, and his body unmolested indicate that there is no malice inflicted on him. But there is effectively graffiti indicating his belongings all belong to his cousin. But the belongings are still there? Would the weapons and armor not be smelted down into their raw materials? If he left the note, he's expecting the tomb to be reopened, but at the same time he's saying he has no family? Of course, he does have family. His entire family is elsewhere. Javier having a net to me means he became a new provider for his mother (but peculiar, is there a lot of fishing to be done in the Teneas mountains?). The woman his mother is embraced with, a lover? a mother? a fellow matriarch? Your story indicates DNA testing is possible, why are we in the dark about the other person? By also being cagey about the year this happens, I don't know what the chronology is. I'm assuming by indicating Kartul had hair and teeth, that he is younger than expected. Did he abandon his clan, or did his clan abandon him? I don't know this story answers that.
Did you write out your timeline of what happens in Kartul's time and place? How old is Javier when mummified? I don't mind the story is told from an evidence based perspective, and I dont think its necessary to explore the archaeologist's point of view. They are the neutral narrator, describing the sequence of events. I think there was more room to work in whats important about what is left, what is missing, and the final moments of life for the three named mummies, and the community as a whole.
There's no real line crit to be able to be given here. You tried something difficult, but unfortunately if you don't nail it, it becomes a bigger miss.
|# ? Apr 27, 2021 23:58|
|# ? May 11, 2021 17:13|
|# ? Apr 28, 2021 21:14|
|# ? Apr 29, 2021 05:03|
Yeah OK I'm gonna write a story.
|# ? Apr 29, 2021 08:00|
|# ? Apr 29, 2021 08:06|
|# ? Apr 30, 2021 03:54|
Alright, I'm in. I'll whip something up right quick.
|# ? Apr 30, 2021 14:05|
Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 02:02 on May 9, 2021
|# ? Apr 30, 2021 14:08|
|# ? May 1, 2021 02:26|
|# ? May 1, 2021 05:30|
i told myself before clicking this thread that if the signups weren't closed officially i'd sign up, so here's me signing up
|# ? May 1, 2021 12:02|
Oh hey, I forgot to close signups!
Signups are now closed. Gorka is co-judging -- one judge slot remains.
|# ? May 1, 2021 12:23|
I dragged my knife down the stone wall over and over until a nice fat divot formed in the crust. Villie stood at the alley entrance keeping watch and bounced around like an elf on meth. It was a loud process, carving poetry into stone, but the tiny sparks and rock dust that scattered around my feet were pretty satisfying in a primal way. I scraped and scratched and Villie paced with anxiety until finally the words blue sunrise in the black morning sky were scrawled the whole length of the wall.
“Looks like poo poo,” Villie said, squinting. “Does that say ‘surprise?’”
“Sunrise,” I said. “Blue sunrise.”
“What’s a blue sunrise?”
I waved the knife around. “I don’t know. It’s poetry, who cares?”
Villie rolled her eyes. “This is why I stick to VR.”
“Good for you. You can go yiff yourself when we get back, you critic.”
She slipped her arm through mine. If she weren’t my best friend, and if this weren’t insanely dangerous, I’d be annoyed.
“Shall we?” Villie asked.
“We shall,” I said, our stupid ritual.
We walked back out onto the street. The post-industrial nu-wave hit Philly hard during the climate crisis two decades back and now the normally trash-choked streets were clean and packed with electric busses, private vehicles being outlawed. They crawled along like massive beetles packed to the chitlin with commuters.
Villie led the way. Her short dark hair, pretty wide eyes, and the bright purple jumpsuit drew more attention than I was comfortable with. She called it “hiding in plain sight” and I called it “being careless.”
The trek back north to the hideout was a pain. We passed City Hall with its ceaseless scaffolding, hiked up along Broad, cut right through Temple’s campus, and slid into north Kensington. The collective had a bombed-out house on a quiet, weed-strewn block.
It smelled like mold and solder. Villie pushed aside the plywood door and went inside.
“Did you do it?” Camron asked from on the steps to the right. Long dark hair in his face and a frown so deep it could’ve been a medical condition.
“Of course,” Villie said. “Pectach’s a pro.”
“Poetry,” I said.
“That’ll piss him off.” Camron almost smiled. God, almost.
Villie leaned up against the peeling wallpaper. “Why are we baiting him again?” she asked, her voice gone soft.
“He can’t keep hunting us,” Camron said.
Before The Censor, we had a thriving group of twenty.
Now we were down to a rotten eight.
“He’ll come here,” Villie said. “Too many cams downtown to avoid getting caught.”
“Good.” Camron stormed upstairs.
I leaned next to Villie. The other anarcho-kids squatted out back, probably jacked into their scavenged VR. “You okay?” I asked her.
“Fine,” she said. “I know why we’re doing this, it’s just—“
“You’re worried,” I finished.
She squeezed her eyes shut and her face screwed up. I hated when her face looked like that. “I don’t want anyone else to disappear.”
“Camron’s got a plan,” I said.
“I hope so.” She let out a breath then forced a smile. “Come on. I want to go get my yif on.”
“Sicko,” I said as she skipped into the back of the house.
Scattered brushfire in bloom on backcountry road. I tapped the tip of my knife against my tooth. “Too impressionist,” I said.
“What’s a hackcounty?” Villie asked.
She gestured back to the street. “I’m exhausted. Can we just go?”
“Sure,” I said, and we headed back toward home. It was late, past midnight. Villie was early to bed, early to rise, despite the tendency in the collective to stay up all night. Vampire hours, Villie called it. Never worked for her.
The lights came out of nowhere. Red and blue sirens blared like hydrogen bombs. Villie released a yelp and looked at me wild-eyed.
“Go,” I shouted, and we went, sprinting down the block. The cop drones kept pace. Hard to lose a cop drone in Old City—the streets were too clean and empty.
Villie was fast but short. I caught up to her, grabbed her wrist, and pulled her along. “Did they see?” Villie gasped, breathing hard.
“Don’t know,” I said, sprinting across Broad, angling north. “Took the fuckers long enough.”
“Ten bad poems,” Villie heaved. “Ten bad poems!”
Ten good poems, but fine. We skittered down Girard and reached thirteenth.The cop drones followed, but flew high enough that I almost lost sight of them.
We reached the house flushed and dripping. Villie slammed aside the plywood. “Camron!” she screamed.
He emerged from the back wearing a light blue silk kimono that showed off his hairless legs. “Time?” he asked.
“loving time,” I said.
The cop drones hovered, lights blazing. Sirens screamed in the distance. Camron nodded, all calm-like.
“Get everything ready,” he said, shedding the kimono. Beneath, he wore black boxer-briefs. His chest was covered in deer tattoos.
Villie gave me a look like she might be sick.
In the back, the anarcho-kids were stacked like plywood on the ground plugged into VR. I shut down the system and they came up for air. “The gently caress man?” Lareth said, bald head gleaming.
Villie said, “He’s coming.”
Oss leapt to her feet. “Right now?” Broad shoulders, real nervous.
“Camron says to get ready.”
Burst of activity as the anarchos scrambled to get into position.
I had one last job. The long banner I’d spent so long scrawling with big neon markers. I unfurled it out front of the house while the cop drones flitted around me, trying to get a good view of my face, the fuckers. I admired my handiwork: Wind eats water even when its cold.
Bastard can’t resist bad poetry.
The Censor stepped through the door wreathed in a halo of light from the cars out front. It was some Terminator poo poo. He had black eyes and a shock of red hair scraped back over his pale skull. A long leather jacket trailed along the ground behind him. Keys jingled in pockets. Villie huddled next to me up on the roof watching on the monitors as The Censor stepped down our hallway into the back room where another banner waited for him:
Put your light
In my mouth, little
Drone kin, your
Pale skin sleeps
On my floor, safe
In recording, transmitting
Relayed through air.
He didn’t love that. Rage stretched across his freckled face as he tore down the banner and ripped it in a frenzy. The Censor hated, that was his prime directive—hate anything unapproved, non-standard, unlyrical, free versimilitude, remotely seditious. Nothing triggered him more than bad poetry.
Camron sprung the trap. The house lights came up brighter than a college campus. It was like a summer afternoon blazing. The Censor let out a strangled shout as Camron sprinted into the room still mostly naked wearing a pair of wrap-around mirrored sunglasses and smashed a VR helmet down over The Censor’s head. The Censor lashed out with a stun-baton and caught Camron on the side, knocking the poor rear end in a top hat sideways.
Behind me, Oss started the program.
The Censor shouted once then dropped sideways. He crumpled onto the floor like saggy bread.
“Stay here,” I said and ran to the fire escape. Villie followed, because of course she did. We climbed down the side, went in through a downstiars bedroom window, and crept into the living room.
Villie kicked the stun-baton away. The Censor was a rigid mess. Up close, he looked like a kid: no more than twenty at most.
Camron groaned. Villie helped him up and his dark eyes met mine. I reached out toward the helmet, tempted to peel it back, tempted to talk to my adversary, the man that had been hunting us for months and only now came out of the shadows, unable to resist our ceaseless poetic goading—
“Don’t,” Camron said.
I sucked in a breath through my teeth. “What’s it doing to him?”
“Deprogramming,” Camron said. “Boro and Doves cooked it up. Scrambling his brain so the PPD’s conditioning won’t work anymore.”
I nudged The Censor with my boot. He looked oddly peaceful. I hoped Boro and Doves didn’t make it hurt. “They’ll train another one,” I said.
“Not for a few years,” Camron said. “Easy to break, hard to make.” Villie helped him to his feet. A big, wicked grin slashed his face. “Shall we escape now, my darlings?”
Villie gave me a look and rolled her eyes. I shrugged a little, still staring down at The Censor.
In some ways, I’d miss him. For all the grief, all the night time raids, all the deleted net posts, all the burned books and torn pages and covered-over graffiti and long weeks spent hiding out from his goons, I’d miss having someone that really, truly responded to my work.
Nobody else gave a poo poo. It was poetry.
“Let’s go,” I said and helped Villie carry Camron out back.
|# ? May 1, 2021 18:24|
Stygian Winds (1446 Words)
Salvaged blankets, woven from twill, made for makeshift cloaks and served as the only guard against the black rain for those who dared venture from the safety of terracotta awnings; their rusty color reminded Klariss of her sister’s hair.
The survivors gathered not at the manors and estates, but at the well at the village center. The Stygian Winds had come, then drank the sweet wine of life and left little of their victims besides leathery skin, bound tight against bone. Perhaps only a dozen villagers were spared.
Klariss had bid a casual goodbye to Eloi only a year ago, just one hug, then it was off to university. Eloi was to return on carriage and bring with her books that smelled of fresh ink and speak of professors and the wards that held off the dark horrors that ripped through the skies near every couple hundred years.
Any day now that carriage would come, even past the dead, but soon the winter was over, and then summer was but a hot snap. Eloi was out there – she had to be. Klariss kept waiting until, one day, she couldn’t.
The journey to the University of Speakers was cruel to Klariss’ feet and to her mind. Weary with every shuffle forward; she ignored bakers and kings who worked wood, she held her lips when asked to weave blankets, and when a small group asked her to stay the night, Klariss declined with only a side-eye and a step forward.
Hollow halls. Overgrown fields. Unwalked paths. The fountain at the center of the University square was dry. Only a lone man sat there with his hands folded together and his gray brows buried up into his forehead wrinkles with worry. He offered only brief acknowledgment before returning to his grief.
“Where are the others?” Klariss asked.
“Why ask questions you already know the answer to?” the man replied. “I am the last Speaker left. My name is Buranc.”
“Klariss.” A nod, brief and polite. “Have you seen a young woman, barely taller than me. Her hair is the color of rust. Eloi, my sister.”
Buranc turned over his shoulder to look back at the towering, plaster-walled dormitories, adorned by works that depicted wrinkled hands and parted lips. “I did not know your sister. Though maybe you could be of help, I’ve searched far and this would be the best place for--”
“Thank you,” Klariss said. She stepped past him in further search.
Buranc shrugged before he stood, then wandered towards a nearby forest with an axe slung over his shoulder.
Each dormitory room was as soul-wrenching as the last. Brittle bodies laid in corners, almost dust now, while others were arm-in-arm, locked into their last moments forever. A bittersweet cemetery. Klariss continued on with a warm and aching heart.
Dispersed through the campus was old grain, but not much, and many wells and fountains for drinking. She searched for clues of her sister: journals and logs, or hopefully an article of clothing. She read word of a woman with rust-colored hair, but the way they were written of was too snide to be her sister. Besides, the person written about was old, far too old.
It was outside, a week later, that Klariss spotted Buranc glistening with sweat as he razed the overgrowth with a self-fashioned scythe.
“I met some folks down in Orleais, told them about here. We’re going to plant a few things, live in the dorms. Good place to rebuild,” Buranc said. “You find your sister?”
Klariss shook her head.
“Sorry to hear. You’re welcome with us.”
Klariss pulled down her twill cloak and offered a polite smile. “I’ll find her.”
“Hoping she’s out there.”
Klariss trekked down to Olreais, passing a small group of chattering folks that carried their things by wagon and barrow. All of them seemed excited to cast their grief behind and start fresh. Downhill, she found an old inn and leafed through the registry. A name seized her eyes.
Eloi. Checked in the day of decimation.
Each stair was a mountain to climb in her rush upstairs. Her feet barely caught hold of corners as she used the rail as frantic leverage. The boards crackled from each step. She swung open the door. Her heart stopped.
A different woman.
Young, yes, but the remnants of her hair were dark, and she was shorter than Eloi had been for nearly a decade. Beside her was a journal. Klariss leafed through it. Each slide of her finger was uncaring and disappointed until they came to the finale words. They described howling winds and black rain, but with greater terror were the words of loneliness. This other Eloi shared her last moments shared with no one.
Klariss returned to the University where she ultimately spoke with Buranc. At first Klariss gardened and cooked, but she could not keep up with the work asked of her as she was too feeble-fingered and easy to anger. Instead, given how far she had come, they recommend she venture to other villages to find doctors, carpenters, musicians, and more.
Klariss agreed, not to spread word of the University, but to find her sister.
When Klariss learned that no one in the outer villages had heard of Eloi, she begged them to visit the University to rebuild. They all declined. Even at the northern rivers and by the beach cliffs, no one accepted the call.
It was only at a small crossroad where seven folks had set up in a haberdashery, that Klariss found accepting ears. She ate bacon with an elderly woman who had cooked for the others, who mostly farmed and milled. Klariss said her skills would be of great use in the University, but it was the promise of two other elderly women that got her to packing. She convinced the other six to go with her.
To be offered the chance to abandon yet another life was never what anyone wanted. It was the need to fit in. To be someone great. To be a master of craft or a passer of knowledge. That is what brought others to the University.
She honed her words, and listened patiently, and let silences sit for minutes before learning of what made people feel wanted. It was this she promised them, if she could. The University was the place to be the greatest at something. It was somewhere to live, but somewhere to make home. A true community.
After two years, Klariss returned to the University of Speakers where hundreds met her, all waiting. It was no longer a handful of folks, but nearly a city now. So many were so thankful for Klariss for giving them a chance to prove themselves. They now found kinship not through necessity, but enthusiasm. People wrote books to pass knowledge on. Masters trained apprentices. There were adults, ones she had seen once as children, learning their first craft.
The crowd parted in two as Klariss stepped forward to find herself before a hair colored like rust.
Eloi was no longer young. Her eyes were heavy with knowledge – she’d seen the world as Klariss had, but there was also something else behind them, a small but distant hope.
“I can’t—how… been. Eloi, I’m so—” Words spilled from Klariss, as did tears.
“There was so much to learn, I’m sorry for worrying you. I know it was a few years ago. Once it happened, I couldn’t rest. I had to find out if there was something we could do to stop it from happening again, and I—”
“Alive. Eloi. You’re alive.”
“I worried you again, I know. I always do”
A second hug. “How did you find me?”
“I didn’t. I found the University. I had been sidetracked on my first trip here, but now I’m finally glad I made it. I was told of a community here just months ago, one worth protecting. And Klariss, I found it, in all my travels I found it – a way to stop the Stygian Winds. It’ll be long after we’re dead, but no one will suffer again like this.”
Klariss’ tears finally slowed. “That’s incredible.”
“No, you helped build this. You’re incredible, Klariss. I never would have found you otherwise. And now I have one more amazing person to protect.”
The two of them walked through the small crowd and to one of hundreds of newly built houses. Someone had furnished one for them, one with two bedrooms and a kettle and a stove and too many quilts. It was there they drank tea and shared stories, for the first time in many years, together.
|# ? May 2, 2021 19:54|
Her True Colors
“Gosh, I hope her husband’s death didn’t hit her too hard.” Angela’s pink-nailed finger hovered over the doorbell button.
“Yeah, if she spends half the time weeping, we will never be done. Can you just ring, Geli?”
Of course, Bruno pronounced it like “jelly”. Angela glared at him, but he pretended not to notice. After an uncomfortable second, she pushed the button, sending a polychromatic melody through the lavish mansion in front of them.
The door opened and their client, bereaved Elisabeth Walsten, let them in with a wry smile.
Soon, the two lawyers were seated in comfortable chairs opposite the thankfully composed widow, who perched straight on a landscape of a sofa. She spread some papers on the hardwood table between them. “As you probably know, my husband fancied himself an inventor. These are blueprints for a handheld UV light emitter. It uses novel nano-architecture chips, but instead of controlling electronic information, it deliberately breaks focus to upscale fifteen-nanometer-wavelength extreme UV waves into more standard hard UV light.”
Bruno stared at the diagrams. “Mrs. Walsten, I’m afraid that -”
“It’s a laser gun, Bruno.” Angela couldn’t quell a wave of smugness rising. This assignment might not be so horrid after all.
Mrs. Walsten cocked her head. “Impressive. Did you take some physics courses on the side?”
“Chemistry, actually. I’m into colors. Can’t understand those without learning about light.” Also, maybe Forensics will finally accept my application.
The two shared a smile, and Angela felt a sort of kinship with the older woman. Especially with regards to embarrassing her oafish partner.
“Anyway.” The moment ended as the widow became all business again. “Speaking of ‘gun’. Rudy realized that this could be used as a weapon, and just stopped developing it at some point. It still has one fatal flaw - the light is scattered over a large radius, it’s more of a UV shotgun - and that wastes precision and energy. I picked up a thing or two assisting him - I’m confident that I can make this into something marketable. Quite profitable, actually. But I want to make sure that it actually belongs to me. I need your firm to help me draft a rock-solid patent, in my name only, so that none of our kids get any ideas.”
Bruno perked up. “We’ll be happy to assist you with this.”
Angela stifled a sigh. He might be, but for her this meant that the brief moment of excitement had passed. Why had she ever accepted the transfer to Inheritance? And would she ever get out of it again, away from Bruno specifically?
Regret made her mind a shotgun blast of scattered rays not finding their target. Angela stared at the sofa just behind Mrs. Walsten. Really nice fabric. Obviously expensive, but showing taste, a mingling of colors in a lazy spiral pattern that drew the eye in without being overbearing. The Walstens must have had it for a while now, the blues and greens had already started to fade. Angela followed the lines of aged green, like a path through a dying forest, sunburned leaves yellowing -
Angela blinked. Half hidden behind their client, a patch of the original color remained. Unmistakably - malachite green, vibrant dye reminiscent of the gemstone it was named after.
“Geli, are you listening?” She startled as Bruno’s cruel nickname yanked her back to reality. “Are you going to be able to deliver your side of the documents by Friday?”
Angela employed her usual tactic to get out of an awkward situation: brutal honesty. “I’m sorry, I was distracted by the fate of this poor sofa. The curse of nice big windows - all that sunlight killing the colors.”
Mrs. Walsten’s head shot around to look at the fabric of her seating. “Oh, yes.” She turned back around quickly to stare Angela down with a gaze from icy hell. “I’d prefer not to talk about deadly sunlight, actually.”
Angela felt a red riptide wash over her face. Rudy Walsten had died from heatstroke, face all burned like hers must look right now. She barely managed a stumbled apology, and the next hour at the Walsten home was pure torture.
“You need to act more professionally. Gaudy make-up, oversized glasses, that circus tent you call a dress, Geli. Jiggly fatty Jelly with her garbage fashion sense and dreams that belong in the trash too. The only way you’ll end up in Forensics is as a bloated, ugly corpse.”
Okay, Bruno hadn’t exactly said all of these things, but he’d meant it, all passive-aggressive on the ride back from the Walsten estate. gently caress him. gently caress this job. Angela nursed her fourth glass of wine and already eyed the cognac. She had done research straight through 2 AM, and her initial nagging feeling had turned into a steady throb behind her brows. Malachite green, three benzene rings, a very stable organic compound. Excellent dye.
The cognac had magically appeared in front of her and made Angela feel like a proper detective. Like someone doing something actually interesting with both of her skillsets, lawyer and amateur dye chemist. Someone deserving a shot at working in Forensics.
And the pieces just fell into place too perfectly to not risk this.
She had to spellcheck the mail asking for another meeting with Mrs. Walsten seven times, but she did manage to hit send without as much as a twitch in her fingers.
“So, what did you want to talk with me about, Angela?”
Angela sipped her champagne, which she had to admit was probably worth the price. “I came here to warn you, Mrs. Walsten. Elisabeth.”
She smiled a conspiratorial smile. “First though, from woman to woman, I get it. Lazy, unambitious men holding us back. Like Bruno, my partner, dull worker bee. And you probably wanted to be the wife of a famous inventor. Someone who made a real breakthrough. Possible applications be damned.”
Mrs. Walsten joined the pact offered by Angel’s smile. “Not entirely wrong.”
“And now you’re going your own way. But here’s an issue: the sofa’s color.” Angela pointed with her glass. “Sure, the ultraviolet part of sunlight would eventually degrade it. But not enough to leave a head-shaped patch of pristine color in the shadow of someone sitting here. Elisabeth, you killed your husband with his own invention.”
The older woman’s smile faded. “He died in the garden.”
“They found him there, with a heavy ‘sunburn’. Come on. It’s been pretty cloudy the last few weeks. You’re depending on people like Bruno to not ask any questions, but what if someone smart takes a look at the whole affair? It’s too dangerous. You’ve been sloppy.”
Mrs. Walsten held onto her glass like it was a rope she dangled on. “What are you getting at?”
Angela swept her hand over the blueprints still on the table. “These are an issue for our firm. We negotiated a flat-rate contract for legal assistance with your husband because we didn’t expect something like this to happen. All of this extra patent work will cost us months with no compensation. Worse -” She took a long sip. “It’s holding me back, and I’ll have to continue working with Bruno.”
Angela put the empty glass down. “So I propose the following: you drop the patent thing. I get to focus on being promoted without this albatross of a man around my neck. And nobody will investigate the holes in your story further.”
The other woman finished her glass as well. “Tempting. However -” She produced a thing of wires and mirrors, with a handle - and a trigger. “Would be a real shame not capitalizing on this.”
A sudden rock in Angela’s throat made it hard for her to swallow. “You are further along than I thought.”
“Angela, you have seen a reflection of your ambition in me. Of course I kept working on this.”
Angela stared down a muzzle. Mrs. Walsten took careful aim. “It’s too risky not to do this. I’m sure you’ll understand.”
A flash, not even a sound, and Angela’s vision filled with the absence of color, an energy too high to be perceived by humans.
Suddenly, the door burst open. Bruno waltzed in, and behind him, three policemen. “Angela! Oh God, we’re too late!”
Her corpse perked up, pulled a phone out of her pocket and hung up. “No you weren’t! Thanks for listening to my call.”
Elisabeth Walsten, frozen with her smoking gun in hand, seemed to have a small stroke herself. Angela blinked a few times in order to try and banish the afterimages, and see her expression properly. “I’m very happy that you did manage to focus the beam,” she said. “Hit me right in the bespectacled eye. Too bad that glass absorbs UV light. You really should have known that.”
She inspected the molten frame of said spectacles, and tried very hard to stop from shaking. “Think Forensics will accept my application now, Bruno?” She managed to say with an unwavering voice.
|# ? May 2, 2021 21:57|
Week 449 r/relationship week crits
this is a weird week and a very hard week to crit. i tried my best
This is pretty fun, but I think it’s a bit one-note as a joke entry. It’s kind of funny, but it doesn’t do much else except play its rather obvious hand and then ends. There’s some decent gags with the egg laying and stuff, and it doesn’t out stay its welcome, but it doesn’t do much else.
This is a tricky one. On one hand, I think this is meant to portray perhaps mental illness, or a distorted world view, in a rather serious way. On the other hand, it also feels like it is meant to mock the character and their issues. I usually try to assume the best of an author’s intention, so I feel like it’s the former and not the latter, but the feeling remains that the tone feels off. I don’t know if I’m supposed to necessarily feel bad for the protagonist, or the husband, or what. I don’t know if I’m supposed to laugh at the ridiculousness of the protag, or be unsettled about how distorted their view of the world is. The tone doesn’t quite land in either direction, so I feel confused about what I’m supposed to feel here.
This is pretty alright as an r/relationship post. Pranks are always a classic, and this has good escalation and the protag is v obv an rear end in a top hat, but I like the justification of “well yeah i did a lovely thing but it led to a good outcome so who can really say it was good or bad” like the dril drunk driving tweet. idk, this week im just gonna have to be comfortable saying, yeah this lands as an r/ post but it doesnt really do much else than that. not thats its a bad thing, just that its not remarkable. sry
This is similar to chairchuckers (i guess not in subject matter) in that its also a bit one-note joke entry. like haha clit annoyed about being ignored. its fine, but it still doesnt really do much outside of its joke, and it does start to drag because not really much happens. like, there’s some character stuff ig w/ the trying to get pregnant, but like, i dont really care. you already made it clear this is supposed to be goofy laugh time, this seriousness isnt gonna get me all the sudden interested.
This is a fun one. The title (v important for a r/ post imo) is a classic fake out where youre like wtf and then you get to the end and youre like oh okay that makes sense. and i think thats where this story excels. it gives a promise in a title (ok explain how the gently caress you ended up that there) and then you reach the end and all the pieces fall together. the v nice thing about this one though is its not hateful or awful, just that this seems to be a good solution for both of the character’s situations, and everyone seems relatively happy w/ the situation. too many times r/ posts are negative, and this one lands on the nice side of positive esp because the title makes you expect something stupid and/or bad to happen.
Another silly story, but this one works a lil bit better than the ones before it. It has some fun in that the dark magician is like v obviously bad at hiding being a dark magician, and there’s a little bit of movement in the edit where the direction of the story changes. its still a lil too one-note for it be a real LOL of a story, but its good fun.
a friendly penguin
I don’t really get this one. Mostly w/ the monks and all the other stuff by the end of it. Is it supposed to be some kind of sacrifice? Idk. This is another kind of silly one, but the joke is just more dull than the rest and being pretty predictable. The only bit I really enjoyed was the end, where the princess contextualized the r/post as her talking to nobles. That was cute. Everything else was kinda meh.
Oh man, I loved this one. This is a fantastic r/post, with a great number of wtf moments and just hits all the right beats. The ridiculous title (v important) begs the question of “ok what? how?” and you build up the post enough to have the title make sense by the end. But there’s just so many great little moments in here. The narrator just nonchalantly saying “oh yeah i dumped by girlfriend for her mom, moved in with the mom, and kicked out my ex” is expert r/post stuff. There’s little gags of Junior (0m) and “me and junior (the literal baby) had no issue” with the protagonist using the literal baby to justify his position. This was the funniest story of the week imo, but i think some of the gags are a little on the nose and would have people in the thread saying “this is fake” which i mean yeah it is, but it doesnt land as believable. still fun so w/e.
On the other hand, this is just a good story. It has a lot of nice elements to it. I’m a sucker for stories that have wacky premises, but play them straight and tragically. Like, the wife’s obsession with CPR dummies could be silly, but it just builds into an actual sad loss where the protag loses their wife, and probably wont ever get her back. It also isnt terribly outlandish, because the CPR dummy obsession could be seen as a metaphor for an obsession with safety and not trying to take any risk to the point of making your life so dull to avoid anything, which can make you feel like you lose the person because they wont do anything but be safe. The only real problem with this story is that it doesnt really fit as an r/post. There’s certain flourishes here, like the details of being licked in the face by the dogs, that wouldnt really fly in an r/post. This really just wants to be a story, which it should, because its a good story.
This one is okay. Idk, the gimmick doesnt really do much for me. It’s cute and okay, but it doesnt really hit a haha moment for me, and doesnt really commit enough to the time travel thing for me to go oh that was kind of clever. It just kinda did its thing. I think if it wanted to stand out, it needed to like actually push its ideas or make the characters more interesting or whatever. The pickle stuff was also kinda weird, I guess it worked as a way to justify the time travel stuff, but did that need justifying?
Rhymes with Clue
I didn’t like this when I first read this, but on reread, its actually pretty good and im glad it got an HM. the relationship with the brother is good and I like it, and its of a complicated nature. It really does just seem like the lady needs to dump her husband because he’s being a jerk and that her brother really is a cool dude. There’s some subtlety in her, too, with them maybe murdering the brother’s husband, which is cool to do and makes the story a bit more complicated. It’s pretty good stuff, and if i was in a better mood, mightve even pushed this to win since i think it does the best job of bridging the gap between a good story and a good r/post.
This one is a bit different than all the other joke stories, in that the other jokes were about the premise, but this one is about how this idiot will not just divorce his wife. And its a pretty decent joke overall. It hits the classic r/post “what do i do? (but dont tell me divorce because thats not an option)” trope w/o saying it outloud. It has some fun escalation, and the ending maybe goes a bit over the top where it gets just a little too unbelievable, but this is still a fun time.
I still want this one tagged as fanfiction because its like literally Transformers fanfiction but then again i wrote Transformers fanfiction so uh maybe i shouldnt say anything. Anyways, the crit. The problem with this is that there’s a lot of buildup but I wish it actually dealt with the Transformer in the room. It came up too late into the story, and felt like it was a story just to get to the Transformer reveal, but idk, it was sort of funny, but loses its appeal after the first time. And even then, it wasnt like, oh haha its a transformer, wow thats hilarious. it was like oh okay transformers, thats cool ig. idk i kinda wish it was a r/post of like “my husband left me for a transformer” that wouldve been cool.
butt stuff lol. thats pretty much the crit actually. this is the best pure joke story because it understands that it has one joke, and so it says i will spend 300 words telling this joke, and then leaves. but even then, i think it has little more than that, because it has bits of the narrator being self righteous over a dumb misunderstanding, butt stuff (lol), and then reddit ribbing into them for it. this is def the best joke story because its short and simple, but also has a few different beats that land well.
this one fits into another nice genre of r/relationship which is lovely people escalating situations for no real reason and then being like well im not that bad of a person. its not that bad, and i think the logic of “if my taste is so bad will you notice this poo poo in your food?” works alright, it just doesnt really create a lasting impression. the specificity in this piece feels weird and out of place. i cant quite tell if the details are supposed to be like wacky cute or wacky annoying. both of these characters kinda suck, but it works because the r/relationship genre of “please dont break up so you two dont make other regular people suffer” is a good one. but yeah, its decent, altho i dont know what the snail videos are supposed to make me think.
|# ? May 2, 2021 22:41|
At the bottom of the reservoir, half buried in silt, there’s a pyramid of twenty barrels steeping in limestone saturated water. We told the feds they burnt up in the distillery fire two years ago.
When the TVA flooded the holler, there was a town called Petersville that sat a quarter mile upstream of the dam. Just a little logging camp that got jumped up to a wide spot in the road during WWI, then died when all the chestnuts either succumb to the blight or the axe. A lot of people around here still hold a grudge for the towns that got flooded, but Petersville was already a ghost town when the water rose.
Point being, our whiskey’s been sitting under 140 feet of water in some hillbilly’s front yard.
Jake and I’d laid it out in a nice pyramid inside the border of a submerged picket fence a few weeks after the distillery went down. As a goof, Jake’d sat on the porch swing after we got done putting the last one on the pile—at least as best as he could with fins and tank still on. He pantomimed cocking a shotgun and looking out for revenuers.
And we let those barrels sit there until we could find someone to pay us what our whiskey’s really worth.
This morning, we dropped down the anchor line and I watched the thermometer on my console dip below forty-five degrees when we passed through the thermocline. The lake gets cold as you descend this time of year—lake turnover doesn’t happen until fall, but if you wait until then it’s too muddy to see anything. We had our hoods on to keep the ice-cream headaches away, and Jake even fished his drysuit out of his attic on account of his arthritis. I started to wish I’d worn my drysuit, too.
There’s two kinds of cold divers—ones who piss in their wetsuit, and ones who lie about pissing in their wetsuit.
We kept going down, nice and controlled. At seventy feet we paused to clip a couple of spare tanks to the anchor cable. On a dive this deep, we’d have to make a safety stop on the way back up to decompress.
Visibility is relatively good this time of year, but it gets dark after the first hundred feet. And that’s when the nitrogen narcosis starts to kick in, too. Around ninety-five feet deep, it feels like you had a shot of whiskey. Every thirty feet after that feels like you had another. Nitrogen’s a weird gas. We were feeling pretty lit by the time we hit the bottom.
But the first thing I noticed as we touched down was that I couldn’t see the barrels. That was good and bad. Good because it meant I hadn’t dropped the drat anchor on them, bad because we were somewhere down the street from where we needed to be. I shone my torch around and caught sight of a steeple, which meant we’d come down next to the old Baptist church.
Hang on—you ever hear the one about the shipwrecked Baptist?
Listen, there was this ship out in the Pacific, and they passed a deserted island. But as they did, they saw smoke signals coming off it, so they stopped to check it out. The captain looks through his binoculars, and sure enough, there’s a guy jumping up and down on shore and waving. Captain sends the launch over to pick the poor fella up.
They get the guy back on the ship and the captain asks him who he is. Turns out he was a Baptist missionary that had been marooned for seven years on the island. The captain looks at the island through his binoculars and sees that there’s three buildings.
“You look like you’ve built yourself a little piece of civilization while you waited,” Captain says. “What’s the hut on the left?”
“That’ the house I built,” says the Baptist.
“What about the hut on the right?”
“That’s the church I go to!”
“What about the hut in the middle?”
The Baptist gets a dark look on his face and mutters, “Oh… That’s the church I used to go to.”
Anyway, we’d descended next to the Petersville Baptist church, which meant we needed to swim a few houses over to find our stash. Not bad, but we only had about twelve minutes of bottom time before we needed to start heading back to the top. And the faster we finned, the more air we’d blow through. I clipped a diving line to the anchor and signaled to Jake to follow along, and we started making our way down what used to be county route 18.
The lake had dropped a lot of silt over the years, but we could still make out the roadbed and the fences of the houses along the street. Some were chain link, most were picket—but it was eerie how well all of them were preserved. Not much oxygen gets down this deep in the lake, so nothing really rots or rusts. When you see stuff like that you gotta be careful because that’s when the narcosis gets dangerous. You start thinking this is some kind of dream, and you want to start poking around the old shotgun shacks and drowned Model-T Fords instead of getting on with what it is you came to do.
Sometimes you sit in porch swings and cock imaginary shotguns at TTB agents that don’t exist.
I just tried to count the houses between the church and our stash until I could make out a pyramid in the darkness.
About a quarter inch of silt had settled on them, and the bands on the barrels showed a little strain where the oak had swelled from being submerged. But the all rivets were holding so we were good to go. The nice thing about moving barrels of hooch underwater is that the whiskey is just a hair lighter than the surrounding lake. They’re not quite weightless, but not far off.
I tapped on the top barrel so Jake’d know which one we were going to bring back up. Then he got the lift bag rigged up and inflated it with a little air—just enough so we could tow it along behind us. Normally we’d just fill the thing up and let it go to the surface without us, but neither of us particularly wanted to poke our heads up and find a game warden snooping around our whiskey.
We followed the diving line back to the anchor cable and started coming up. It was a little tougher than I expected because we kept having to stop and let a little bit of air out of the lift bag as we ascended.
You add another atmosphere of pressure every thirty-three feet you go down, y’see. So if you put a gallon of air in the bag at the bottom, you’d have about two gallons of air by the time you got up to seventy feet, then four by the time you got to the top. And the more air in the bag, the faster it goes up.
Only we can’t go up as fast as the bag can. Same rules apply to all that air we’d been breathing into our body while we were on the bottom—we go up too fast and all those little nitrogen bubbles would start popping up in our blood and joints.
So we took it slow and got back to the spare tanks we clipped on the anchor cable, but we’re both running low on air. I swapped out my tank—but when Jake goes to unclip his spare tank, he fumbled it. Thing dropped like a rock and it’s out of sight in a flash.
I look over and his eyes are big as dinner plates. The dial on his tank gauge is about to zero out and I could tell he’s about to panic and jet for the surface. He’d make it…but we’d have to get him into a hyperbaric chamber to keep him from getting the bends. Between you and me, this whiskey’d get real expensive if we had to do that.
I grabbed him and yanked his regulator out of his mouth and shoved mine in. He took a pull of air, then I yanked it back out and took my own breath. There we went, swapping air for the next fifteen minutes while we decompressed. The worst part was I don’t think Jake brushed his teeth before we went out on the lake.
Longest drat ascent of my life.
Anyway, here’s the barrel. It’s a little wet and it’s going to drip for a few days. Don’t worry. That’s going to be water coming out of the wood, not whiskey. This is the stuff that’ll ease an uneasy mind, waste not you’ll want more before too short a time.
When you do, gimmie a holler.
|# ? May 2, 2021 23:48|
Susan tried hard to be a good manager
Susan Mackintosh, Manager (Product Testing), put down Senior Engineer Jim Sutherland’s test flight application and sighed. She pictured herself plucking the lighter from the top drawer of her credenza and setting the half-arsed document alight, but then she realised that was probably just what Jim wanted. Susan rearranged her features back into her firm-yet-fair manager face, rose from her desk and took two steps to the window overlooking the workshop floor below. She scanned the room for Jim, squinting past the meeting reminder that was flashing in her retinal display. God she wished she could turn the drat chip off. Then she spotted them, Jim and Sean, her two most cursed hires, strapping themselves into the cockpit of the HoverOx.
Susan just caught the sound of Jim, the stupid bastard genius, whoop-whooping, before she was deafened by the Ox’s jets. It was designed for lifting 10-tonne containers onto mega-freighters; unweighted, the HoverOx handled like a greased-up lamborghini. Jim and Sean did three full 360s before the out-of-control HoverOx careened through the double-height observation window, straight towards--
The children! thought Susan. Sprinting for the stairs, she was already calculating the possible disciplinary consequences of an unauthorised test flight. But Jim and Sean were her staff; Susan wasn’t going to let them go that easily. She vaulted the stair railing and landed astride Murph. Marketing had yet to come up with a name for the prototype equi-bike, but “Murphy’s Magic” had been written on the chiller that the robot’s horse brain had come in. Susan snatched up the reins and slammed her palm against the ‘on’ button.
The robot equine’s eyes snapped open, steam gushed from its nostrils, and it lunged into a canter. Not bothering to test the steering, Susan dug her heels against the pressure pads on its sides and gave Murph its head. It bolted straight for the fresh air coming in through the smashed window. Susan’s inner thighs protested at the unaccustomed exercise but her eventer’s instincts were still intact. She sat tight as Murph vaulted through the hole left by the HoverOx, then booted it to accelerate on landing. Her eyes began to stream as they galloped through the airy lobby and out into the carpark, where a screaming teacher was herding a group of tweens back inside a big yellow bus. Susan recognised her colleague’s daughter, Aubrey, standing apart from the rest, eyes glued to her camera as the HoverOx corkscrewed straight towards her.
Susan shifted her weight forward and Murph responded with a burst of effort. Susan wasn’t sure if they’d programmed it to do that, but a thoroughbred knows how to dig deep, even if its brain has been transplanted into a robot. Susan scooped Aubrey up under her armpits just before the HoverOx’s jets scorched the tarmac and set the Vice-Chair’s Lexus on fire. Susan hauled on the reins to pull Murph up, and deposited Aubrey next to her teacher.
“Tour’s cancelled!” Susan yelled. Murph’s servers were making a high pitched whine and its legs were vibrating; she wouldn’t be able to hold it for long. “Annabelle will organise a refun--”
Murphy’s Magic had been a good racehorse, until a catastrophic tendon injury had seen him packed off to the slaughterhouse. He wanted to please, and he loved to run more than anything. He loved the feeling of his hooves barely kissing the ground as he hurtled forward, of his nostrils opening like jet intakes into the great bellows of his lungs. Several things about his new body were taking him by surprise, not least the sensation of his legs lifting, knees and hocks folding against his belly and his tail raising clear of his rear jet as it roared to life--
Susan didn’t have time to think about why they’d bothered to install a real horse-hair mane onto a metal-bodied robot before she was gripping it for dear life as Murph literally rocketed after the HoverOx. Susan caught a glimpse of Jim’s sweating pate as Murph shot over them. She hauled with all her weight on one rein to force Murph around to face the bovine cargo hauler.
The HoverOx slammed to a halt, its cow-brain spooked by the horse that had dropped out of the sky in front of it. Susan felt a little spike of satisfaction as she heard Jim and Sean’s faces smack into the airbags.
“What the bloody hell are you two doing?” she shouted. Susan punched the ‘off’ button and Murph sagged, head hanging as the cooling system sucked in air through its nostrils.
“I filled in a flight application.” Jim folded his arms across his chest.
“You nearly killed Aubrey! And your application wasn’t even on the right template!”
“Who’s Aubrey?” Jim looked at Sean.
“Jane’s daughter.” Sean rubbed his bruised forehead.
Jim leant in closer. “Who’s Jane?”
Sean cast a nervous glance at Susan and whispered back, “You know, from Legal.”
“Oh!” said Jim, suddenly recalling the robust face of the company’s Chief Legal Advisor. “Yikes.”
“Yikes is right,” said Susan. “And you’ve probably tanked Annabelle’s school outreach programme.” She slid off Murph and shook the lactic acid out of her trembling thighs. “Why didn’t you just ask me if you could take it out today?”
“Because you would have said no.”
Susan was more than a little hurt by that response, though she’d never admit to that. Plus the bloody meeting reminder was still flashing in her left eye, now informing her that, due to her decreased proximity to the Boardroom, she was going to be late. She pressed the butt of her hand against her eye socket.
“Oh, poo poo,” said Sean, mistaking her gesture. “Don’t cry, Susan. We’re sorry. It was Jim’s idea. I--”
Jim unfolded himself from the HoverOx and walked over to Susan. He reached out and slid his fingers under her hair to gently touch the small node on the base on her skull. “You want to turn it off, don’t you,” he said.
Susan took a deep breath, and attempted to put her manager face back on. She only half succeeded. “What I want, Jim Sutherland, is to not be forced to fire you for massive incompetence.”
“That’s because you’re a good manager.” The crow’s feet around Jim’s eyes crinkled as he smiled at her.
God dammit you bloody bastard-genius, thought Susan, as she felt tears well up behind her eyes. Buggered if she was going to let either of these two see her cry--
“UNIT READY,” said Murph, in a chipper woman’s voice.
Susan jumped, then subtly (she hoped), wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her blouse. The equi-bike took two steps towards her and nosed the pocket of her dress pants. They definitely hadn’t programmed it to do that, either.
“I turned mine off the week after they implanted them,” said Jim.
Susan covered her horror at this egregious breach of company policy by rubbing her hand over Murph’s smooth chrome muzzle. A smile played at the corners of her mouth. She shook her head, trying to make it go away. It didn’t work.
“I think this prototype’s broken,” she said, stroking Murph’s ears. “I’ll let Programming know they won’t be needing to do any further work on it.”
“That’s right,” said Jim. “You never know, with new technology. Sometimes things just stop working.” He rubbed one hand over the back of his shaved head. “And no one ever knows why.”
Susan met Jim’s eyes. “I think my chip’s playing up,” she said. “I might have to ask you to take a look at it when we get back to the lab.”
Jim smiled. He jerked his head towards the HoverOx. “You want to fly her back?”
“Fly?” Susan vaulted onto Murph. “Oh dear me. No. Absolutely not. You two will be just fine pushing.”
Susan let Murphy’s Magic amble ahead of the slow-rolling HoverOx and the two panting engineers. She’d missed the board meeting and the broken window was going to gently caress her budget, but she’d worry about that later. No one had gotten hurt, and the test flight data would be fascinating. Susan Mackintosh, Manager (Product Testing), gave Murph’s wither an affectionate scratch, and tipped her face back to enjoy the sun.
|# ? May 3, 2021 04:36|
it's kinda like this sometimes but also not really
more than 1500 words rip
The empress Sanguira of the Drumfire Plains draped herself languidly across her throne of skulls, one leg slung carelessly over the bundle of polished femurs that served as the arm. Before her lie the audience chamber, her supplicants hidden in chiaroscuro, the grand domed hall too vast to light with magic or flame.
Shuffling from the gathered petitioners. Whispers. Murmurs of: I’m too anxious. You go first.
“sooo,” says the empress, “was anyone going to do an audience or…?”
After a muted interval wherein Sanguira could hear the side-eyes flying between her subjects, a single soul stepped forth. The empress sighed. It was Scruptis, one of the imperial arbiters. A diligent, competent man who was exhaustingly enthusiastic about his job.
The empress sighed again, making sure it was visible in the rise and fall of her shoulders this time. “scruptis audience time is for subjects not employees. if you have something to report there’s a form…”
“I have served three copies of the requisite form to your office, empress,” Scruptis said, squaring his shoulders, the picture of righteous indignation. “It would seem that your staff did not get the memo —” he made square quotes in the air with his fingers “ — that there’s a new, form-based procedure for making reports.”
“thats because most people just come talk to me, like you can literally just walk into my imperial office.” Sanguira held up a hand before Scruptis could tee up a screed on the impropriety of an imperial open-door policy. “what can i help you with my friend?”
“It’s come to my attention that — “ he began, and the audience chamber doors boomed open. Dust fell from the high rafters in a brief trickle, caught in the sudden daylight from the doorway.
A silhouette stood where a moment before had been closed doors. “IS THIS THE DREADED WARRIOR EMPRESS, THEN?” sonored the stranger. “LOUNGING ON HER THRONE SUCKLING BUREAUCRATS AT THE IMPERIAL TEAT?”
“Ooooooooo,” said the petitioners.
The empress sat up straight on her throne. Not because the stranger had commented on it, but because her thigh was getting a little sore from resting on a bundle of femurs.
“hello this is the empress speaking how can i help you,” she said in a dignified sort of way.
The stranger strode into the chamber, parting the flesh of the crowd like a blade, the empress’s subjects drawing back from him with a deference that was frankly irksome.
“HERE’S THE DEAL, I WANT THAT CHAIR YOU’RE SITTING ON. AND ALSO, YOUR EMPIRE.”
The stranger was close enough now to see clearly in the dim of the chamber: He was of warrior stock and warrior posture, clad in the toughened hide of an apocalypse lizard, battle axe strapped to his back. The empress knew of only one man armored himself with the leather of an unkillable lizard: Tyranor, king of wrath. And he was coming for her realm.
“now there’s a name i haven’t heard in a long time,” the empress said, stroking her chin.
“I DIDN’T ACTUALLY SAY MY NAME YET,” Tyranor said.
“yeah sorry i did that thing where i’m thinking a thing but forget to say the whole thought out loud,” the empress said.
“OH YEAH I DO THAT A BUNCH ESPECIALLY WHEN I’M TIRED.”
“well let me tell you what you’ll be doing a lot of if you seize my throne,” said the empress. “it’s being tired, that’s what.”
There was a disgusted noise and a swish of robes. Scruptis leaving the audience chamber in a huff, the empress observed. She felt a pang of guilt; her office had mentioned Scruptis’ repeated attempts to formally make a report, and each time Sanguira had put it on the backburner because there were always roughly seventeen other, more urgent things to deal with.
“THAT’S A GOOD INDICATION THAT IT’S TIME FOR SOMEONE WITH A LITTLE MORE VERVE AND ENERGY SO REINVIGORATE THE REALM,” said Tyranor, adding, “YOU FEEBLE MARTINET.”
“nonetheless you’re going to have to fight me. like,” the empress paused, considering, “not to the death but pretty darn close to death. like one of us is on the ground gasping and daring the other one to finish them off but the victor graciously reaches down and offers the loser a hand up? that kind of thing.”
“I THINK IF I WIN IT’S KIND OF MY CALL HOW THE END OF THE FIGHT GOES,”
“ok,” said the empress. “well that’s not going to happen so it’s sort of academic. but yes if you really want to murder me in front of my generally happy subjects and employees immediately before taking over a supervisory role go for it. you can’t kill me in any way that matters anyway.”
She smiled mysteriously. Tyranor could absolutely kill her in all the ways that mattered, but for all he knew she had some sort of imperial myco-thaumatic regeneration invocation tattooed on her rear end. It was good to sow that sort of doubt.
“WHATEVER YOU SAY. LET’S TANGO.”
With a mighty coil and release of his muscular thighs, Tyranor launched himself at the throne and the empress seated on it. In one smooth motion the empress lunged beneath Tyranor’s opening attack, unsheathing her blade as she rolled gracefully across the floor, and came to land in a crouch. Tyranor unslung his battle axe from across his shoulders.
Sword sparked against axe. Tyranor hurled a lance of sizzling thaumatic lightning; Sanguira retorted with a flurry of spectral ravens with scythes for wings.
Those supplicants brave enough to stay for the fight pressed themselves against the walls of the chamber, knowing even so that a stray bolt of magic or thrown blade might take them instead of the intended target. Such was the price of spectating blood sport.
The air took on the ozone stink of war thaumaturgy. In the third hour of the fight, a bold vendor crept into the chamber to hawk greasy ockpig sausages to the crowd.
Sanguira saw an opening in Tyran’s defenses, dropped down, swept her leg out in an arc that took the warrior in the knees, knocking him onto his back. The empress sprung up, raised her sword —
“Empress!” cried someone from the doorway. “Arbiter Scruptis has lost his mind!”
Empress Sanguira turned her head, just as Tyrano regained his feet and unleashed a battering ram of magic that took the empress fully in the side, knocking her to the floor. The wrath king swung his axe in a wide killing arc, halting the blade at the empress’s throat, a kiss of steel on skin.
Sanguira scowled up at him. “really?”
“YOU WOULD DO THE SAME IF YOU WERE THE ONE ON YOUR BACK.”
“i legit wouldn’t,” Sanguira said. “can i go check on my guy before you seize my throne or whatever?”
“TECHNICALLY HE IS ‘MY GUY’ NOW,” Tyrano said. “BUT I CAN SEE HOW I WOULD BENEFIT FROM SHADOWING YOU ON THE JOB BEFORE THE HAND-OFF. YOU TYRANNICAL CRETIN.”
The empress batted the axe away, picked herself up, and strode quickly to the messenger who’d interrupted the fight. “where is scruptis?”
“He got frightfully drunk, empress,” the messenger said, still winded from their run. “Tried to start a fight down at the Golden Dangler, then when there were no takers, he got real morose. Talking about how he’s a worthless good-for-nothing so-on-and-so-forth. Shambled down to the docks, threatened to arrest anyone who tried to stop him.” The messenger gulped. “I don’t think he ought to be near all that deep water, empress.”
“no indeed,” the empress said, and ran for the stables.
Scruptis was a sorry sight, tottering around at the end of a pier, tunic askew, shouting at seagulls.
”Keep fuckin’ laughing you winged ingrates,” the arbiter yelled at the wheeling birds. ”You n’ the empress and everyone.”
The empress dismounted from her horse and approached the despondent arbiter, Tyranor close behind her. “hey man what’s going on i heard you’re having a hard time down here.”
“Oh, good, the empress is here,” Scruptis said, apparently still addressing the seagulls. “Here to mock the bureaucrat with her macho lizard man pal.”
“WE ARE NOT PALS. I AM A WRATH KING.”
“scruptis i’m sorry. you’ve been trying to do your job and i keep blowing you off.”
“drat right you do!” Scruptis said. “Running an empire isn’t all pissing magic at muscular rivals. There’s ledgers n’ operating procedures and fuckin’...signage. For example the signage on the royal highway, which currently is neglecting to warn people of the massive landslide outside of Shorpshire, namely that there is a detour around it.”
“oh,” the empress said. “dang that is the sort of thing i should have someone look into.”
Scruptis made an agonized noise, flapping his arms like a seagull taking flight.
“I THINK THAT’S WHAT HE’S BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU,” Tyranor said helpfully.
“i got that,” said the empress. “scruptis, when you sober up i’m giving you full latitude to go ham all over the signage in this realm. and i don’t ignore your communiques anymore. deal?”
“UM. I THINK THAT’S MY — ”
The empress whirled around to face the wrath king. “you are absolutely right. i’ll forward you all six hundred of my inbound imperial communiques as well as the dossiers on all the other heads of state who are as a rule fairly unhappy with me. and you can sort out scruptis here.”
The Tyranor the rath king regarded her for a long moment, a warrior’s regard. “I THINK I’LL SHADOW YOU A BIT LONGER. I CLEARLY HAVE MUCH TO LEARN ABOUT THE ROLE,” he said at last.
The empress clapped her arbiter and her imperial understudy on the shoulders. “that is a rad choice my nemesis dude. now who’s up for an ockpig sausage?"
|# ? May 3, 2021 04:50|
I got the call at two in the morning,which meant my manager had her phone ring sometime around one thirty. I flipped open my laptop to read along as she went over the customer report.
"Drake is singing karaoke in an airport bar in Cincinnati," she said. That's what the ticket said, too. Drake Fowler. Our CEO. Belting out Total Eclipse of the Heart according to the last update.
I struggled to find words. A few minutes ago I had been dreaming about swimming in the Olympic games against Henry Kissinger, and part of my head was still processing that. "That doesn't seem like a software problem to me."
"I just got off the phone with Drake," said Kim. "He's at home, in Boston. Also. Take a close look at the attachment."
I let it load. A video clip, timestamped a few minutes ago. It looked just like him, dancing up on the tables. He was wearing a Reds cap, and every minute or so he'd turn his head and give a little thumbs up. Just like in that picture we used for the celebration token. We're not a cryptocurrency company, but Drake is a bit of an enthusiast, and a lot of our code is crypto-adjacent, fast math and fast compression, that sort of thing. So we've started making NFTs to give to customer executives based on Drake's selfies.
"Oh. Oh. You think 14860 is back?"
"It's looking like it."
We don't have a wizard on staff. There's a guy who used to come in as a consultant to help with that kind of thing, but he retired a few years ago and we haven't needed a new one yet. I'm the person who worked with him most often, which makes me the current holder of our institutional knowledge concerning magic, and how to avoid it. Which is honestly tough at the bleeding edge. Sufficiently arcane calculations are indistinguishable from a spell, both from the side of code review and the side of the vaguely sentient forces of nature that power spells. That's where issue 14860 can come up. You have an image with resolution beyond what the human eye can discern, folded into a fraction of the space it should occupy, encrypted and occulted with a unique key, which is to say a true name, and then assigned value by the act of a market transfer. The fact that the whole process is wasting, which is to say, sacrificing obscene amounts of energy doesn't hurt either. At the end you've created a copy of a person, something that can become almost real if a spirit should happen to walk in: a non-fungible tulpa.
It happened once before. The changes we made in the code was supposed to stop it from happening again.
"Can we use the same work-around?" I asked.
"Maybe. It depends on the customer CEO. Do you know anything about Edgar Fykes?"
I did. Ambitious. Clever like a straightrazor. He was in upper level management of the company I was with two jobs ago. If he hadn't already put it together he would in the time it would take someone to fly out to Ohio. I told Kim.
"I'll set up a meeting," she said. "Early next week. Meanwhile, let's try to reproduce it in the lab."
I didn't like waiting that long, but there was a good chance we would need to know more about the issue to resolve it. The Drake tulpa was probably harmless. It wouldn't have fingerprints at all, most likely, wouldn't know any passwords. Most likely couldn't write at all, much less forge the real one's signature. A tiny fraction of walk-ins become compulsive murderers, but if this was one of those we'd already know by now. Probably.
I was in the lab the next morning with a plan and access to a company credit card and set about the process of making a few tuplas. I had a portable BBC- that's bell, book, and candle, rigged up by the magic guys. Sort of ridiculous looking but it worked. Flick on the lighter, give it a shake, and point, and as long as you're the owner, the walk-in walks out and the tupla fades away. Started with a max-res Drake from our archive. Worked like a charm. I've got to say sending that spirit back across the Silver Barrier felt good. A few more tests clarified the circumstances. It didn't work at any resolution below our top setting. Had to be a real person. Had to be sort of a celebrity, but with a pretty low bar there, anyone with about ten thousand followers anywhere would do. Had to be alive, which had some interesting applications for detective work, I noted that down for the bug-to-feature pipeline. Legal already told us they'd never sign off on featurizing and selling tulpas. Not because it was wrong, but because you had to be a few magnitudes bigger than us to have a hope of managing the optics. But side effects may be manageable.
Had to be owned by an individual. Companies didn't do it. Had to be given from the company to the individual rather than sold. Had to be registered on an exchange, and only four of the six major ones would work.
The last day I was working with filters, trying to find a long-term workaround. Heavy filters worked, but those cut against the high resolution product itself. What I wanted was a very light filter, something working in the very lowest order bits only. And that worked badly. It would reduce the chance of a walk-in, but not completely, and it didn't stop the empty tulpa from forming in the first place. I had to slow down at the end. Limp lifeless Drakes were filling the lab, with or without a hit from the BBC, faster than they evaporated into pink flowery mist. Final note: probably need some kind of rune or sigil in that low-order filter. Task for the new magic guy.
So that left Edgar Fykes. We met for golf. He had his Drake caddy for him. I carried my own clubs. I've got the perfect level of skill for this sort of thing; I'll lose to executive types without completely embarrassing myself or trying to lose.
"This is going to change the world, you know," he said.
"Maybe," I said.
"Oh, it will," he said. He pulled out a three wood and felt the weight in his hand. "Maybe the spies keep it to themselves for a while. Perfect deep fakes, interrogation techniques." He took his swing, a few dozen feet closer than mine had been. We started walking. Or maybe it goes wide. If your people keep it quiet, maybe that takes the twenty years until your patents expire. Or maybe one of the big players finds out and buys you out."
"Is that your play?" I asked. "Try to trade that tip for a seat on the board at-"
"Would be if I was an rear end in a top hat," he said. "If I was that kind of rear end in a top hat. Let's put tulpa world off a few decades." We both wedged our way onto the green. "Tell you what. You make that putt, I'll sell you the token for a hundred bucks. You miss and it's ten thousand."
It was a long one, but I'd made longer, and both numbers were under the highest I could have gone without further authorization. I lined up with the flag, adjusted for the grade, and took my shot.
|# ? May 3, 2021 05:06|
"You're probably wondering why you're here," Detective Riley says. He reminds me of a myna bird, cool and confident. His partner Jones is more like a ruru, an owl grumpily watching from the sidelines.
"Yeah, of course," I say, sweating under the unnatural fluorescent lights. "I got your message through Facebook, but I'm really not sure what my activity on the bird identification pages has to do with anything. It's not a crime, right?" I have the stupid habit of babbling when I'm excited or nervous.
"No, we're actually asking for your help." Riley consults his notes. "Your eBird records indicate you're familiar with Okere Forest Reserve?"
I nod. "I've been searching the area for a kārearea, the New Zealand falcon, for the last two months."
He waves that away. "Great. Right on the edge of the reserve, a group of white supremacists have holed up. We need to get close to see what they're doing without attracting attention, so our plan is to go in as birdwatchers."
"Good excuse for the binoculars and telephoto lenses," says Jones.
"We'd like you to pose as our guide, leading us to the best overlook and covering any bird knowledge, in the unlikely event it becomes relevant."
I'm deeply flattered: most people change the subject when I talk about birds, yet here my knowledge is actually serving a practical purpose. And they're asking me, of all people. I agree without further thought. The world's first crime-fighting birder!
The day of the mission, the officers are encumbered by their cameras and tripods but I'm traveling light. Being in the bush is my meditation, where I can let go of myself to become one with the trees, the soil, the birds. As we walk through the podocarp forest, dappled sunlight falling through the kauri branches and tree ferns, I try to share my joy with Riley and Jones, telling them about the noisy iridescent tui and fat sleepy kererū that we pass. However, the officers are tense, all business. After Jones snaps at me, I lead them to the ridge in silence.
Relaxing under the manuka, I watch as the officers set up, aiming the camera at the hut in the valley below. Jones stares through her bins while Riley snaps photos. Now that I'm paying attention, I can faintly hear the gruff voices of men carried on the wind. I hope Riley and Jones are getting enough evidence to arrest these people. I remember reading about the incident in New York's Central Park, where the white lady with the off-leash dog threatened to call the police on the black birder, and feel outraged all over again. Who could be threatened by a birder?
A pīwakawaka interrupts my rambling thoughts. Though it's only a tiny ball of brown fluff and a large fanned tail, it fearlessly hops around me, peeping. Its white supercilium feathers form cute angry eyebrows. The bird loses interest in me and flits over to investigate Riley's camera.
"Hey," Riley says when he finally notices. "What's this bird doing?"
Ooh, an invitation to share my bird knowledge. "It's a pīwakawaka, or fantail. They're insectivorous and love to eat bugs that we disturb, or attract." Jones sniffs herself surreptitiously. "Plus, they're territorial, so this guy is just checking out what's new in his domain."
"Māori think they're messengers of death, though," Jones says.
I'm surprised she knows that. "Well, yes," I say, "but I've seen tons of them and I'm fine!"
Riley and Jones exchange a look, clearly disagreeing with me. Riley looks back through his camera. "drat, lost sight of them. They must've gone inside."
"We'll have to cut it short, then," Jones says, glowering at the fantail bobbing away. "Say goodbye to your bird friend."
I sigh, feeling like the pīwakawaka and I are responsible for losing the targets. As we head back down the ridge, the bush goes quiet. Through the trees I think I hear a thin keening cry. The kārearea? I want to investigate but the officers are in no mood to detour, so I have to content myself with watching the undergrowth for movement. I'm so fixated on the bush that I nearly run into Jones' back as we round a bend.
"Hey!" I say, then look around the officers to see why we've stopped. I freeze up like a bittern, reflexively trying to blend into the background. Three large scowling men and one growing Jack Russell terrier block our path. I note with disapproval that it's off-leash, distracting myself from the fact that the men have runic tattoos, shaved heads, and are holding metal pipes. I guess the white supremacists hadn't gone inside after all.
The largest man says, "Nice day for a walk?" The officers don't say anything. Oh right, I'm supposed to be the leader, to prove myself and my hobby useful. You can do this.
"Yep," I manage to say. The men don't move, so I continue talking. "I'm guiding these guys around the bush today. We've ticked twenty birds so far and are now looking for the kārearea. Have you seen it?" Keep it casual.
"The what? Speak English," says the man with the dog.
"The falcon. I, uh, think I heard it over there," I say, moving to go back the way we came. The men step forward. I stop, palms sweating.
The men turn their attention to the officers and their surveillance gear. Deep in the bush, some pōpokatea chatter. "Birdwatchers, eh? What bird's that then?" the shortest man asks them.
"A tui?" Riley guesses. I groan internally. Everyone knows the tui's distinctive, croaking song.
"Pretty sure it's not," the man says. The largest man takes another step towards them, hefting his pipe. "Let's see what birds you've taken pictures of."
"Those binoculars look expensive, let me see those too," says the short man.
"Nah, we should get going." My words are unconvincing even to me. As usual, I'm ignored as Riley clutches his camera, guarding the precious evidence. One of the men pokes at Jones with a pipe and she angrily bats it away. The men aren't intimidated and grin wolfishly as they move in. The officers are outnumbered and unarmed. Oh God, what if the pīwakawaka was a sign? My heart races at the imminent violence and I'm about to bolt, every birder for themselves, when I hear the cry again, much louder.
Kek kek kek!
The kārearea dives out of the trees, aiming its talons straight at the dog. The dog snaps but the falcon is far too fast. It wheels up, screams again, and comes back for another round.
"What the hell?" The man with the dog waves his arms, trying to keep the falcon at bay. The other men back up, distracted as they glance fearfully into the rimu canopy.
With the officers out of immediate danger, my excitement overrides my fear. "Oh, the kārearea must be nesting nearby! They're very protective of their territory," The short man stares at me, then covers his head as the falcon dive-bombs him.
The large man's attention starts to slide back to the officers, so I distract him the only way I know how. "See how small the falcon is? That means it's a male. The females are about a third larger."
"Shut up!" he said, glaring at me. Out of the corner of my eye I notice Riley taking some hip shots of the scene with his camera, so I ignore the man’s directive. It feels empowering, like I'm a real crime-fighter.
"They've been endangered for a while due to the loss of the native bush, but they're recovering. Did you hear about the falcons for grapes program down in Marlborough? The conservationists relocate falcons in the vineyards and the falcons keep the pest birds that eat the grapes under control. It's been really successful."
The men can’t figure out whether to look at me or the kārearea, and so give up entirely. "Bloody birds," the man with the dog mutters as he picks up the barking terrier and runs off, his mates lumbering after him and the kārearea swooping after them. In the sudden quiet, the officers stare at me as if I'd summoned the falcon from thin air.
"That was exciting!" I say, my adrenaline pumping from the encounter.
"Yeah," says Riley. He and Jones look more rattled than relieved. "Did you know it would do that?"
I'm happy ignoring the white supremacists too. "It's been known to happen, we were lucky to see it in person."
"Lucky it wasn't us," he says, but then continues. "You did well, keeping your head. Could be an actual birding guide, you know. Or a cop."
When I see he's serious, I grin like an idiot.
Jones, as always, is less impressed. "Great, yes, we saw a falcon. Now let's get out of here."
But nothing can dampen my glow as we walk back through the golden late afternoon light, tauhou softly twittering overhead.
|# ? May 3, 2021 06:48|
In the deepest darkness of the brain are neurons that glow1. They don’t glow to stay alive, to communicate, or to caution others; they glow just for the sake of glowing, shining for nobody to see. But I know they’re there. I think about them when I look at you, wondering what parts of your brain are lit up. Do the patterns change when you look back up at me, or are they locked in place from birth?
I watch you grow; I watch you learn; I watch you move. I wonder what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, what sense of the world you’ve made. Do you have hopes and dreams, or is it all just reflexes playing out in a natural, predetermined order? Under different circumstances would you do the same things, behave in the same strange ways, or would you be different? Are you happy?
I’m happy; you make me happy. It has been a pleasure watching you grow, gain confidence, and explore your world. I enjoy observing you learning new tricks to make your life easier. I like watching you move in your funny little staccato ways. I’d like to think you dream of something, even if it’s not much: a fulfilling meal, cuddling against a warm body, the peaceful surrender of a short nap. I imagine your life would be much different if you weren’t here, because I know mine would be.
I want to protect you from monsters. I want to swoop you up and spirit you away from the flickering shadows and quick movements that startle you. I want to shade you from the bright lights, shield you from jabs and injections, steel you against those that would do you harm.
But you don’t know about the dangers, because I’ve hidden you from them. You feel safe in my hands. We’ve been here before, many times, and you are comfortable. Trust has been built up over weeks, and you could try to squirm free, but you don’t. You’re starting to feel secure in my presence, and it makes our time together easier. I appreciate your trust and wish I could repay you somehow, but it’d complicate things.
I want to protect you from monsters, but I cannot. I cradle you in my hands and you never bite, even as I open the lid of the induction chamber and place you inside. You feel scared at first, then you begin to feel sleepy. I look away to make it easier. Not for you, but for me. You look up at me, with hope that I will rescue you, your mind filled with glowing nobody should ever see. But rescue isn’t coming, and I will see the glowing soon. I want to protect you from monsters, but I cannot, because as you realize only too late: I am not a savior. I am the monster.
|# ? May 3, 2021 06:48|
6 inch Pizza Sub with Cheddar
Tony was exactly 12 minutes away from lunchtime when he discovered the alien plot. PLAN ZETA ACTIVATION MATRIX, it read. The letters were an iridescent purple like a beetle’s wings and hummed softly. Tony turned the paper over, uncomprehending. On its back was intricate writing that was at first incomprehensible but resolved, after a second, into spidery but readable English text. It had been one of those mornings, a clock-watching morning, a shuffle the papers around morning, a morning when the actual literal flow of time could be visibly seen to slow and even stop as the second hand on his birthday watch flicked around from one tick to the next, so this was a solid diversion.
That said, this was not an expected part of the information access request Tony had been processing, and he was fundamentally unclear on how it had found its way into the medical records of Horace Zimfandel (date of birth 4 November 1950, IRD# 49447377). Horace was a grumpy, voluble fellow and Tony felt like he was beginning to take his measure after receiving a total of 83 emails from him over the previous week. The emails were variably angry, pleading, grudgingly approving or completely incomprehensible; in none of those emails had Horace hinted he might be part of an invasion force, alien or otherwise.
Tony’s brow furrowed as he read the details of the invasion proposal. It seemed to hinge on mind control troops (called ‘CEREBRATERS’, all-caps) beaming down to hidden bunkers then using their powers to mentally influence world leaders, with a view to weakening the armed forces of Earth. There were vague references to a subsequent plan, but aside from a tantalising hint that it might involve chickens there was no additional detail.
Tony leant back in his chair, brow still scrunched up like a wet towel. This was significant, and should probably be brought to the attention of… someone. The relevant authorities. He hadn’t heard about aliens existing, and certainly hadn’t heard about them infiltrating the governments of the world.
The nip of Tony’s biro was well-chewed, and it was in his mouth again, his teeth gently incising the battered plastic.
“Annabel,” he called out to his boss. “If I’m doing an access request, what do we do with threats, again?” Tony sort of low key fancied her but he didn’t think she thought of him at all apart from with weary distaste, so had always been extremely professional.
Annabel looked up. “Personal threats? Of physical violence? Withhold under section 49(1)(a). Maybe (b) if it’s closer to harassment.” She looked a little harried, like she had a lot of apps open in her brain.
Tony realised he still had his biro sticking out of his mouth and removed it. “It’s not really physical threats, but it, I don’t know, it might be? It’s sort of, um, a potential threat in the future?”
Annabel looked at him and Tony could almost see her reallocating mental space. “Is it in scope? Within what the requester was asking for?”
Tony shook his head firmly, glad to have something not wishy washy to say. Annabel had really nice eyes, he thought. “No, there’s no personal information in it at all. It’s unrelated, must have got in there by accident.”
Annabel smiled, pleased to have an easy fix to their conversation. “Great. Just put it aside and continue then, we don’t need a ground to withhold.”
Tony nodded slowly, then said, “Um should I … tell someone? Let someone know?” He could see the conversation where he explained about the alien invasion plan and it didn’t seem like it would be a good one. Plus it was almost certain to stretch out past lunchtime and he was hungry.
Annabel shrugged. “Sure, we can have a look at it together later if you like. My calendar is up to date, flick something in there.”
Tony smiled back at her. She really was a pretty great manager, he decided, and it was lunchtime. “Will do!” He slipped the oddly slippery sheet of paper into his credenza, logged out of his PC and went to lunch.
Unfortunately when he came back the paper was gone, having vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared, so he didn’t put a meeting in Annabel’s calendar.
The subsequent conquest of the Earth by the Zebuloids was thus assured.
In the months and years to come when Tony was toiling in the Hack Gangs digging up precious Z-crystals in the hellish Vapour Mines of Krml, Tony would often think back to that day.
He never mentioned it to anyone though.
|# ? May 3, 2021 06:59|
Time for Filing 1428 words
First thing in the morning I am summoned to the Captain’s office. The meeting is to discuss the fact that I recommended for declassification a file regarding one of our many war crimes. I knew when I did it that it was a mistake. Not a mistake in the sense that I was incorrect; a mistake in the sense that they will obviously not heed my recommendation, and it may cause issues for me at work.
‘So,’ says the Captain. ‘This file.’
I wait for him to explicitly prompt me to speak, because it’s been my experience that’s safest.
‘Did you mean to recommend this for declassification?’
‘Yes, Sir. The events occurred over twenty-nine years ago, so it meets the time requirements. Additionally, the incident was extensively covered in the media anyway. It is an opportunity for us to demonstrate we are putting such events of the past behind us.’
‘Hmm,’ says the Captain. ‘The thing is, we’ve got these anniversary celebrations coming up.’
I’d thought they were more commemorations than celebrations, but what do I know.
‘I just think, maybe it’s not the right time to be bringing these files to light. Might distract from the celebrations, ey?’
I mean, celebration seems an especially odd word because we lost thirty years ago. Although, given the contents of the file that was definitely not going to be declassified, and many like it, perhaps that was a good thing.
I shrug. ‘I am only a recommender. Approval is above my pay level.’
He nods, happy that I know my place. ‘Quite, quite. We’ll just shelve that for another year or so, shall we?’
And in a way it’s not really his fault either, I suppose. The chiefs will want to maintain the fiction that all those atrocities occurred without the direction of the regime at the time.
The meeting ends, and I head back to the archives, relieved that the conversation went, relatively speaking, quite benignly. The Captain and I have a good arrangement. He mostly leaves me alone, because no one else wants to sort out the files in archives. No one but me and Petra. Most people find it boring. We don’t mind. No one else there to bother us, free to blast our own music, just get in the zone and sort through the files. And very little oversight, so we can take our time and make sure we actually go through the files properly.
‘What’d he say?’, asks Petra.
‘Not this year,’ I tell her.
She shrugs. ‘Sure there’s a good reason we just can’t see.’
She is, perhaps, a slightly better patriot than I am.
We’re sorting through the files from the same conflict where the various atrocities happened. A great number of atrocities, all documented very carefully, with the names of the people involved, and the people who told them to do it, and the people who told them, all the way up to the chiefs. So when I see the file on Temporal Displacement, which sounds very un-war crimey, I gladly pick it up and have a flip through. Reading the war crime files can get a bit depressing. They bother me more than Petra, I think because I’m the one who goes to the meetings with the Captain, so she’s better able to divorce the events in the files with the people now in charge. Me, I sometimes wonder.
‘Check this out,’ I tell her, and I pass it over.
She flips through. ‘A time machine? That ridiculous.’
‘But if it’s in the archives…’
‘Yeah,’ I say. If it’s in the archives, we take it at face value.
And besides, who wouldn’t want to read about a time machine?
We read the whole thing cover to cover.
It’s the next day, and I’m waiting outside the Captain’s office, and this time Petra is in there first. And we should’ve just tucked the file away, but it’s our job, you know? And I can just make out the conversation Petra is having, and it’s not with the Captain, it’s with the Colonel, and I know we’re in trouble this time. Because Petra is very smart, and she’s talking about how even though this file is technically over twenty-nine years old, it refers to events that are more recent than that, and she’s technically right, I mean I wouldn’t even have though of that, but it really feels like the Colonel would prefer not to have people who know about a working time machine roaming free.
And she leaves, accompanied by military policemen who have just been summoned, and it’s my turn. I am better at playing dumb, because again, not as good a patriot as she is, which is also why I eavesdropped on their whole conversation, so I know how to play it.
‘So,’ says the Colonel, ‘you’ve recommended this file’ – and he’s holding the Temporal Displacement file – ‘for reclassification. The Captain tells me that’s the first such recommendation you’ve given.’ The Captain is there as well, and he’s smiling at me almost apologetically, like he knows that he’s accidentally gone and disposed of his archivers and he’s really sorry, because no one else wants the job, and he doesn’t want to give the bad news to someone else that they’re going to have to do it.
‘Well, this one was only classified beige’, I say.
‘Right,’ says the Colonel.
‘And we can assume from this that the device listed in the file doesn’t work,’ I say, hoping I can spin my way out of the trouble Petra found, ‘but the fact that such a device was nonetheless funded should mean a classification of at least’ – and I scrunch up my face as if thinking hard – ‘yellow, if not red.’
‘I see,’ says the Colonel, and for a moment I think I’ve gotten away with it, but then he asks ‘what’s your favourite number?’
And I know, because of the eavesdropping moments before, and a few other times besides, what that means. But the thing is, I’ve also read the file, and I know for a fact that no one else other than Petra has, because no one else other than Petra ever does, or ever will. That’s why we had no competition for the archiving job.
‘Pi,’ I say.
‘Huh’? asks the Colonel, and I start to list off the digits, but he waves his hand. ‘Whole number, if you please.’
‘Three hundred and fourteen, then,’ I say.
And the Colonel smiles, but it is not one of the sheepish or apologetic smiles I get from the Captain, it is an unpleasant smile of someone who thinks they have a great joke at your expense. ‘Cell 314 it is’, he says, and the door is opened and a military policeman takes me away.
And I spend the next year or so in cell 314, but it isn’t quite as long as the Colonel had planned, because like I said, I read the file, and I know which cell was used to test the device.
So, after about fourteen months, one night the device appears in my cell, and I prevail on the gentleman operating the device to take me with him, because I can give him a first-hand account of the future, and I further prevail upon him to omit me from the records, because I didn’t read about me in the file.
I also use the device in cell 5, which is Petra’s cell, but I go a little bit earlier so she only has to spend a week behind bars.
And once I fill the time machine operating gentlemen in on the results of the conflict, and all the war crimes and such, the three of us take a bit of a trip, and we can go where we want, because political borders and such are meaningless when you can jump to a time period with no passports and no border guards.
Petra is still too much of a patriot for what the two of us have in mind, so we drop her in a time period with fewer war crimes.
And then we defect.
And I suppose technically I’m a traitor. I suppose technically what I’m doing is treason, when I, 30 years in the past, divulge to the Other Side the details of files that describe war crimes – especially when I do this before they happen, and create witnesses.
And I suppose some would say I haven’t been a very good patriot, and have betrayed my country.
But they started it.
|# ? May 3, 2021 07:44|
And having given out an hour or so of You Say You're Working On A Thing leeway, submissions are closed.
|# ? May 3, 2021 07:47|
Interprompt: weird birds
|# ? May 3, 2021 08:47|
Ain't Easy Being Green
Did you know there's two types of kakapo? It's true! There's the ones like me, moss-green and feathery, and there's the ones that are tall, with multicolored coats and stick-thin wings. To be honest they look more like trees than like me, but I love them all the same. The tall kakapo are our mothers: they raise us as chicks and continue to check on us and feed us even after we leave the nest to roam around the forest. They give us our names. I am Sirocco.
The kakapo mothers have given me a wonderful life, and so it's only natural that I want to help them by bringing the next generation into the world for them to raise. To do that, I know that I need to mate with one of them. That's just biology, but finding the right mate is difficult for kakapo. We're picky creatures. Most green kakapo wait literal years until the rimu fruits, then try to attract others with their booming calls. However, the mothers barely participate in this ritual, so I started to seek them out at other times, looking for my perfect mate.
Finally, a mate arrived! Two new tall kakapo arrived with one of my old mothers one day. One had a crooked beak, but the other, oh, he was perfect! A mossy green coat just like me and beautiful grey fur, the color of my beak. I strutted around him, playing it cool to see if he was interested in me. Before long, he bent down low to the ground, holding a black clicking box and moving in close to me. A clear invitation! I eagerly clambered up and began to mate. Unlike previous times, no mother immediately removed me. In fact, they gathered around, making happy cooing sounds. They approved! I rubbed on my mate as hard as I could to demonstrate my vitality. He and I would make strong chicks. Finally, my old mother removed me but I was satisfied. I had done my part in furthering the kakapo species.
|# ? May 3, 2021 22:45|
Sorry for the bird erotica
|# ? May 3, 2021 22:47|
|# ? May 3, 2021 23:15|
TD 456: Results
After a week where it wasn't clear if the judges' schedules were going to sync up at all, the Council has managed to convene in the dark of night (US time) to render judgment. After much discussion, we have determined this is an old-school week, with exactly one of each mention.
Winner: Uranium Phoenix
Honorable Mention: crabrock
Dishonorable Mention: anime was right
Crits will be forthcoming as soon as I feel less like garbage! Anyway, it's UP's throne.
|# ? May 4, 2021 05:55|
In order of posting.
Uranium Phoenix: I might be predisposed to the piece because I also have worked in education for a long time, but I believe most people should be able to relate to the circumstances. I think this is a very well written, if optimistic. If any criticism is to be levied, perhaps a little overwrought with the spell names and theory jargon, but that's really just opinion and not grounded in any theory.
Brotherly: I'm not sure how well it meets the prompt. I'm looking for some mundanity, something base that I can apply a universal understanding to. I'm not getting that here. This does need a second pass for some copyediting, but its not egregious, maybe some reworking on your similes/metaphors. I'm not sure what "saggy bread" is. My biggest complaint here is that you don't lean on any part of the story. You've got a tiny bit of characterization, a tiny bit of world building, a tiny bit of action, and not much narrative arc building. Give me something you can really hang your hat on, otherwise cut some of the chaff. I think you start the story too early.
Anime Was Right: I don't think this meets the prompt at all. " Write me a story based in some facet of your professional or other specialist knowledge." This needs a line edit by someone better at grammar than I am, but there are too many spots where the flowery language isn't getting across what you want. I appreciate a rumination on writing and weaving an artistic relaying of what happens, but a problem is that nothing happens, and I don't think Klariss grows or changes, or is a catalyst in her own life. I want to know what the end feeling and goal you were shooting for, and how was it informed by the plot?
Simply Simon: I appreciate you don't waste time hiding what the 'secret' is. I am not sure you hit the prompt though, your protagonist is a lawyer, but that she is a lawyer isn't relevant other than to place her at the scene. Her real skillset comes from her chemistry background, so I'm not sure which aspect of her skillset is the one being emphasized that the prompt has influenced. I think there's definitely some room to cut, and you need to work on your imagery when it comes to your descriptions saying the opposite of what you mean: "Angela felt a red riptide wash over her face." A riptide pulls water away from shore, so a riptide would leave her face ashen/pale, not red. The end feels a little rushed, and I think you could have alleviated by doing some trimming earlier.
Weltich: This is a pretty good story. I would prefer to see the stakes, the dropped air canister, appear sooner in the story, but I think you also alleviate some of that with the repeated emphasis of how dangerous it is what they're doing. I appreciate the specificity of the diving technique, and I like how its been applied to bootlegging, something very plausible, but also novel at the same time. I think the acronyms are going to throw a reader, TVA and TTB, and I dont think you'd lose anything by writing them out. While I agree that a local, especially one using a vernacular like holler to indicate valley(and also using holler to indicate yell), wouldnt say the full name, I think you already hit the versimilitude of the protagonist. Lastly, I think you might want to work in the cost of the whiskey. Retail, I'm guessing each barrel is somewhere around $5,000 a piece. Seems awfully dangerous for the cut these two men are going to receive. Maybe increase the number of barrels that makes it worth their while to get down there, or really highlight just how desperate they might be.
Yoruichi: A very bold takeoff into the drudgery of middle management, animal husbandry and horrors of technology. I appreciate the lighthearted tone, it makes a fun adventure of something truly dystopian. The one thing I think this is missing, is a deeper dive into what Susan is thinking during her test flight of this jethorse. I say that because there's an undercurrent that Susan does enjoy her job, her coworker antics (to some extent), but she obviously has this robust, but languishing, skillset that seems obsolete, or at least out of place, in this techno-moreau world.
Sitting Here: A wild story gets a wild crit. I believe this is all in Scruptis' head, a sycophant desperately in love with his Empress, but has been blunted by the banality of bureaucracy in a totalitarian post-apoc 'lull'. His imagination of how Sanguira acts or thinks is dulled, to the point that she cannot emphasize anything, and that the only thing that excites her is the imaginary anti-Scruptis, the Tyranor. He is always kept at arms, if not greater, reach because he's annoying. The kind of annoying of a person who always wants to do a good job when the world is awash in a sea of meaningless entropy. The kind of person who got 'better' in a pandemic, but that just made them worse. And hes the protagonist, having his own existential crisis, but his desperate love for his empress is clouding his ability to articulate why he's so unhappy. Some things are un-crittable by design, but internal Scruptis is what I want to see more of. There's relatability up to a point, where no matter what the circumstance, boredom is the true enemy. The word choice is fun, so is the treatment of the world, but I think there's more room to play with bizarre details that would flesh out the visuals a bit more. Since its a fun romp, what other 'little weirds' could be peppered throughout in place of the rote apocalypse details?
Thranguy: I know I'm not smart enough to follow the story, but it appears to know exactly what it is talking about. I like the concept of thinking of ourselves, our souls really, as non-fungible tokens that can be given arbitrary value but only on purpose. We don't inherently, or accidentally, have value, we don't even claw our own value, we are given it. I might be mis-reading the theme, but I wanted to see the end cap off that sentiment. Are sufficiently engineered tulpa's indistinguishable from ourselves, in the same way sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic. But the end isn't as concerned with that, the end is concerned with the mechanics of it all, including the biz dev and damage control. Maybe I'm missing the theme, and that its a commentary on ignoring the adage of 'just because we can doesn't mean we should'. I liked the story, though its internal conflict can is kicked down the road a fair bit, and the story doesn't have any stakes for the protagonist really. I did personally find it tough to follow, but I don't count that as a negative. Some small errors that can get cleaned up in an additional copyedit pass. I like the application of what an NFT could mean outside of internet-land.
My Shark Waifu: I don't consider mynah bird to be cool and confident. Flourescent lights produce far less heat than halogens. Start your story after the first break. The entire first paragraph can be summed up in one sentence. "Ooh, an invitation to share my bird knowledge." is telling, not showing. Let the dialogue carry the feeling you want to evoke. "I'm surprised she knows that. " Same. "Could be an actual birding guide, you know. Or a cop." I don't know what this line implies. I'm also not convinced white supremacists in the bush wouldn't beat birders to death, or at least steal their camera no matter what. You've got a mismatch on internal stated stakes, and how it plays out in the story. All said and done, I have no idea how a birder becomes a hero, and I think you do the prompt justice. I think there's room to go in different directions, playing up the absurdity of a birder leading officers, or play up how out of depths the birder is. At the moment you're treading this middle ground.
Crabrock: jesus christ.
Sebmojo: Snappy with just enough mundanity to keep everything grounded. I've seen this happen far too many times where an off-handed comment is unfortunately only relayed until after that comment has already caused considerable consternation. Good on Tony for knowing to not open his stupid mouth. I don't have much to say really.
Chairchucker: Like another story, I'm not smart enough to follow the logic of time travel, and I would get too tripped up trying to follow it that I would lose the story. Because its in the archive, I'll take it at face value. I thought this was very good, if maybe there are just some details that I would think would play out differently. I can't imagine the Captain being able to be left alive, and I'm surprised the Colonel didn't read the report either, or he would know what cell the device arrives in. Who writes the report for archival? Anyway, I think the way you've written it as also characterizes the narrator. He's very robotic, detached (and what I would assume as PTSD from repeatedly reading about war crimes of the machine he is part of), and I think the writing captures that well. This is not an insult, if it appears as such, I think its adept. Maybe a bit more characterization of the time traveler? Maybe relevant, maybe not, it almost seems as though its not even necessary for them to exist. Could the machine just appear, and because he read the report, knows enough of how to use it?
|# ? May 4, 2021 06:01|
Thunderdome Week 457: The Frontier Was Everywhere
Humanity has had a lot of frontiers. About 250,000 years ago, that frontier was everywhere. Frontiers and exploration have long fascinated us and shaped how we view the world. Your task will be to write a story in which a frontier and exploration figures prominently. When you sign up, pick past, present, or future. You’ll be assigned a frontier related to that era. What will you get? Well, you’ll just have to explore that by signing up .
-Some frontiers are classic enough that you can just pick them from this list for a -300 word penalty instead of dealing with all the bullshit:
-If you want bonus words, you may post crits of up to 10 stories for 150 words per crit. Again, stories from a week you were not a judge (if you have outstanding crits you should be doing those anyways ). Must be posted before the sign-up deadline.
-You can also to request hellrules. This confers no benefits, only suffering.
Rules: No erotica, poetry, nonfiction, rants, googledocs, fanfic, etc.
To be clear: If you post “in”, also either post the rule you want or the era you want a random rule from.
Word Count: 1800
Sign-up deadline: Friday 11:59pm Pacific
Story deadline: Sunday 11:59pm Pacific
-Simply Simon (future; Europa +1500 bonus words)
-brotherly (past; Amazon)
-J.A.B.C. (present; dreams)
-Azza Bamboo (past; Mediterranean)
-Thranguy (future; wormholes +1500 bonus words)
-Gorka (past; African coast)
-My Shark Waifuu (present; microscopic)
-Obliterati (future; alien relics)
-Trex (future; time)
-seaborgium (present; ocean floor)
-Tosk (future; nebulae)
-crabrock (present; mind)
Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 18:54 on May 8, 2021
|# ? May 4, 2021 11:51|
This sounds fun as hell, in for random future
|# ? May 4, 2021 12:51|
In, random past please
|# ? May 4, 2021 12:56|
It's been a long while since I Thunderdome'd, sign me up for a random present please.
Edit: missed a line on phone. Question removed.
|# ? May 4, 2021 13:05|
Europa, a chrysalis of ice wrapped around hidden oceans
This sounds fun as hell, in for random future
The Amazon, as humans first encountered it
In, random past please
Dreams, where reality holds little sway
It's been a long while since I Thunderdome'd, sign me up for a random present please.
|# ? May 4, 2021 13:12|
for failing last week.
In for a random past.
|# ? May 4, 2021 13:44|
In, random future.
|# ? May 4, 2021 16:01|
In, I'll explore the past
|# ? May 4, 2021 16:23|
|# ? May 11, 2021 17:13|
In, give me a present!
|# ? May 4, 2021 17:03|