The Mediterranean, long before it was tamed
for failing last week.
Wormholes, tears in space and time, or portals to the unknown
In, random future.
The coast of Africa, ships skirting its ancient shores
In, I'll explore the past
The microscopic, where unknown interactions take place among organisms and particles alike
In, give me a present!
|# ? May 4, 2021 17:26|
|# ? May 11, 2021 17:18|
|# ? May 4, 2021 20:10|
Alien relics, long abandoned, drifting in the void
|# ? May 5, 2021 06:03|
The past is dead. The future is now.
|# ? May 5, 2021 07:49|
Time, perhaps not as linear as once suspected
The past is dead. The future is now.
|# ? May 5, 2021 14:16|
|# ? May 5, 2021 15:42|
|# ? May 5, 2021 22:53|
Andromeda, once 2.5 million light years distant
|# ? May 5, 2021 22:56|
Andromeda, once 2.5 million light years distant
In present, sorry.
|# ? May 5, 2021 23:09|
I want to participate but I have deadlines coming up and I'm worried about how hard the second vaccine will hit me tomorrow, I can judge if you still want folks
|# ? May 6, 2021 00:59|
you should catch up on crits before judging again
|# ? May 6, 2021 08:40|
Idiotism Crits (week 448)
Azza Bamboo, You Won't Be Alone
The opening paragraph could use some work. I've never been a fan of semicolons in narrative prose in general and I especially don't like this one. "It's as though" does nothing good here. Cut it and commit. Finally, don't paragraph break after the colon.
I know just barely enough about sonic to recognize what's going on here. You do a fairly good job with a slightly oversized cast of broadly defined characters. It's the tone that gets the story in trouble. Swerving between comic and serious moments is always high-risk, and here the story crashed into the median.
Crimea, Little Machine
Another opening paragraph that could stand to commit harder, to cut out the 'I think' and 'I'm sure's.
The scale is all wrong for slower than light travel. Andromeda is much, much farther away. And I question the mechanics of these probes expecting to stay operational in deep time scales. Still, I liked this one quite a bit. (I've written something quite similar, in fact. Hitchhiker, Week 323)
Yoruichi, My Fault
Opening in past perfect seems like a very bad idea. And you're using present for the other timeframe, so there's no reason to not just use past.
This is competent, but I keep rejecting the premise. I don't see this going to trial as a criminal matter. Without a record it would get pled out. Probably not even as a civil matter unless she was uninsured, which doesn't seem likely, and even if it did reach court the stakes would be too low to work dramatically.
Fishception, Signed On
Starts out with a strong enough voice, but the activity going on early stays a bit too vague.
This has potential. I think it was a mistake to keep the narrator so comparatively blank, to not have him go through any changes before the very end. He needs to be more than a pair of eyes here.
I sort of feel like I need a bit more specificity about the war for the extended metaphor to really hit, too.
Baneling Butts, Transcript of...
Interesting opening. The voice may be a bit too breezy for the subject matter though. Story logic check, I seem to be doing a lot of these. One hundred dollars isn't all that much, first. And hotels are expensive and tough to acquire on a cash only basis. One with a minivan worth raiding is never going to be obtained with a sub $100 deposit.
This one really falls apart at the end. There's an interesting thread in this story of imposter syndrome and privilege, but the downfall needed to go bigger, and probably not in the direction of gendered violence.
Antivehicular, This Will All Be Funny in Ten Years
This is a good opening with some odd tense choices, first using present tense for action clearly in the narrative past and then using past perfect rather than ordinary past for things before the scene.
Overall this is a very strong piece. There's a sort of unresolvedness about the situation, alluded to a little by the title. (In a modern TV show that ending is something you could come back to and have long scenes hashing it all out. With the single point of view and a need to conclude within the word count it's not so easy to make Joshua not come across a bit monstrous.
Brotherly, Stone Don't Float
I like the first line a lot. Packs a lot into a few short words. You go on to name a lot of characters in a hurry in a way that feels like a distraction. But you don't name the foreign general, and that repeated phrase doesn't exactly fit in with the rest of the piece.
As a sort of fable this works well enough. I've got to think that this is a world where people know enough that any shipwright would be advising him to go bigger from the start.
Morning Bell, Dollar Fever
The opening is possible overly long. It's full of amusing detail,but it's taking a long way 'round,it feels like the story doesn't really begin until the title drop.
And at the end it's a bit rushed, I think we could use a bit more time inside that fever state, could use a more natural comeuppance than the abrupt car accident. Also could have done with another editing pass; there were more typos than in any of the other stories so far.
Sitting Here, Saint Anybat
A very strong opener, although I'd say the first sentence went one phrase over the line.
This is another piece with mismatching tone; there's a lightness, a humor that isn't entirely of the gallows that jangles oddly with the unrelenting bleakness, that feels somehow more true than the nihilism it contrasts against.
Simply Simon,Sigfried of the Schoolyard
The opening is a little confusing but generally effective. And the rest of the story is competently told. It's held back a bit by being a bit too predictable, by having most of the characters wind up being one-dimensional. If other stories suffered from having elements that didn't quite fit, this one suffers from being a bit too consistent, not allowing anything to happen that isn't in straight-line service of the morality play.
|# ? May 6, 2021 09:53|
In for future, please.
|# ? May 6, 2021 11:48|
The ocean floor, vast and dark
In present, sorry.
Distant nebulae, nurseries to the stars, shrouds to the heavens
In for future, please.
+1500 bonus words!!
Idiotism Crits (week 448)
I can judge if you still want folks
you should catch up on crits before judging again
|# ? May 6, 2021 13:24|
|# ? May 6, 2021 13:31|
The Mind, still unconquered
|# ? May 6, 2021 14:31|
Signups are closed, in case anyone needs to be told that. Go forth, valiant explorers!
(Cowardly explorers can also proceed).
|# ? May 8, 2021 13:47|
|# ? May 8, 2021 14:06|
Crits for Week 456
UraniumPhoenix - Ridgewood Alternative Elementary Wizarding School’s Program For Socially Maladjusted Adepts
This was a really good read, and I was especially impressed with how you managed to keep a light-hearted tone despite the heavy subject matter. It feels extremely real even though the setting is fantasy, making every spell and other magical tidbits seem like a tantalizing metaphor. Good stuff.
The only parts I’d criticize: “It’s 8:36am when Dr. Paudry strolls in, wearing business formal and an air of infuriating superiority. “Dr. Paudry,” he says, shaking Ms. Amanda’s hand, who is your sole para helping with behavior support. She raises an eyebrow, glances over to you, and shakes his hand, but only after she says her name twice does Paudry realize he isn’t talking to the teacher.” – I had to re-read this paragraph a few times to get what’s going on, and I’m still not entirely sure. Paudry thinks Amanda’s the teacher, but it’s actually Mrs. Wright, and he only realizes when the wrong name is pointed out twice – that presupposes that Paudry knows the name but not the appearance of the teacher, something I have no way of knowing, and then it confuses me still why he’s so insistent on thinking Amanda is the teacher. As both staff are women, it’s not even sexism. Also, I don’t know what a “para” is, sorry.
Further, I really liked how you kept emphasizing the precise time, because it adds to the atmosphere of “they have to meticulously plan their day, or stuff goes wrong”, and was wondering why you dropped it halfway through. Maybe it emphasizes that the day has gone up into unplanned chaos (or is about to) because of Paudry’s interference, but it’s a bit weak to me.
Overall though, really excellent and a deserved winner for sure.
brotherly – The Censor
I kind of liked this, the general storyline and some of the concepts, but it has a few very weak and cringy bits. The dialogue is especially lacking, trying to set relationships between these jaded punky kids who keep busting each other’s balls while also expositing at the same time, and it just doesn’t flow well. Even worse are the interjections by the narrator, going for a snarky tone that doesn’t land for me and doesn’t endear me to his struggle much.
I think using poetry of questionable quality as bait for a brainwashed entity who really hates artistic expression (again, no matter the quality) is a pretty fun setup, and the resolution of the narrator actually appreciating getting a reaction from someone, anyone, is quite interesting, but it would profit from you not feeling compelled to set up all these various characters, have them do something, and also world-build at the same time. You’re stretching yourself too thin.
Overall, I certainly don’t regret reading it, but it either needs expansion or some heavy pruning to be good.
anime was right – Stygian Winds
Before I even read on, here’s a first impression: wow that’s a terrible first sentence.
Now that that’s said, let’s talk about the whole thing. Generally, I wasn’t too fond of it. You narrate a lot of the stations of Klariss’ journey pretty drily, it’s almost like reading a history book. Take this passage: “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.” It would be so much better if you had a scene where she actually fumbled something and exploded. Actually, this is the only time in the story where her anger issues are mentioned. Previously, she’s terse and focused. Afterwards, she’s become a diplomat and isn’t angry anymore, of course. Hell, it’s not even clear what the issues she initially had recruiting people were, except that she wasn’t offering them the right things.
Finally, I really don’t like the ending. I think it would have been way, way better if she had accepted that she wouldn’t find her sister, but found fulfilment in what she did for the community instead, and then it’s revealed that Eloi is alive, and that’s it – their dialogue doesn’t really add anything, except super heavy-handedly lay out how ~important~ Klariss’ work was. Eloi’s out of nowhere reveal that she has single-handedly solved The Issue is almost insultingly facile: just like that, all problems evaporate. And all you had to do was talk to some people.
Overall, I think the post-apocalyptic world you build is pretty good, with all the dead left where the stygian winds ended them, and it’s good that you don’t try to expand on them. I like how people try to find a way to move on. But you fumble the main story set in this world hard, imo.
weltlich – Dive Bar
This story confused me a little, because I initially had trouble understanding just how deep the reservoir was meant to be, what the TVA is (still don’t know), and – that’s on me – I just don’t know intuitively how much 140 feet is. It didn’t help that there was at least one tense mistake (“succumb”), and I was wondering if your exposition was going somewhere.
I kept wondering that as you described in detail how diving works, and what can go wrong (but didn’t, in the story), and how the whiskey barrels would float, and that’s interesting I guess, but not very captivating? It felt like at points I was “watching” a nature documentary, with the narrator going “oh yeah and here we had to really pay attention, but as you can see, we’re good at what we do”. The one moment of tension is also quickly resolved because the narrator is just very competent. Which is fine, but you know – not super fun to read about. I think you try to establish some tension with the nitrogen hallucination explanations, but those don’t really happen either, except for the line that it might make you sit on a porch swing – which clashes weirdly with the first time you mention that, when it’s described “as a goof”, aka nothing to worry about.
Overall, I was left confused and slightly bored. I think, for me at least, this would be better if something happened, for example hallucinations kept cropping up for the narrator, and they worried more and more if they were also getting to Jake, and so on.
Susan tried hard to be a good manager
We did a draft exchange for this one, so I can’t offer much more of a crit than I already did in private; especially because you sadly didn’t have time to edit it, so this is literally the version I already gave critique to. There’s no need to repost my incredibly extensive list of grievances itt.
Sitting Here – it’s kinda like this sometimes but also not really
This was very enjoyable, a fun read. It’s hard to write convincing comedy, especially for me who goes all grumpy old man when reading prose, but you have a way of being sincere when it matters and funny without pointing fingers that just works. Another bold choice is the no caps+punctuation/all caps dialogue, which, again, also just works because you know how to write. In fact, it fits perfectly to underscore the personality of the two, particularly the bored, tired, empress.
I think the weakest part of the story is Scruptis, who is just a little too mundane, with a problem that – in the world you suggest – should be more out there than just a landslide. Like, I’m fine with him being a boring bureaucrat, but magic is commonplace, you have a benevolent but blood-throne dictatoress, he should really be boring about something crazier. Imo. This also makes the scene where they talk him down drag a little with no good, funny resolution.
Overall though quite enjoyable, suffers from a few typos but you know that.
“EDIT”: oh poo poo I just got the title lol
Thranguy – Nifty
This story suffers a lot from the problem that NFTs have in the real world: they’re mind-bendingly stupid and make my eyes glaze over whenever someone talks about them. That’s not your fault, but it doesn’t help if you write about them. Especially when you spend two long paragraphs talking about technical details, peppered through with magical references of course, but it’s still very dry. The experiments are also kind of interesting, but mostly because I am an experimentator myself and like to read about other people’s setups. I don’t know if that’s a broadly applicable thing, though.
In the end, because the topic kind of bored me, and the magic additions didn’t really help, I kind of didn’t understand what the narrator actually invented. Therefore, I also couldn’t really follow what exactly Edgar was offering him, how that would actually impact the world (they stayed pretty vague) and if I wanted him to succeed or not. Overall, he was so detached with the whole process, that I had a very hard time telling if he actually thought “wow, that really sucks” or “amazing business opportunity, no downsides”. He was quite blasé about the possibility of making a murderous tulpa, even.
Overall, just not a subject matter that resonated with me, you could have made it so but didn’t, sorry!
My Shark Waifu – Territorial Animals
One could feel the bird nerd knowledge oozing from this story, which makes it incredibly on-prompt. I’m not much of a bird nerd, but I didn’t feel, like, annoyed by it; your main character is pleasant enough to “listen” to, and their prattling makes sense with the conceit of the story.
Your setup is pretty clean, I have no issues with your first part. You get to the point quickly and establish what’s going to happen. However, I think it then takes a bit too much to get to the action, when they get discovered by the white supremacists. The “messenger of death” thing is a bit too clumsy for me to feel the tension that something bad might happen; I’d rather have that be because e.g. Jones gets the main character to shut up by reminding them that this is not a game, because these people are already suspected of hospitalizing someone, they just couldn’t pin it on them, or something like that. In the end, I couldn’t quite see them as a threat, with a dog small enough to be valid prey for a falcon, and the officers – imo – probably covertly armed (they’d be really stupid if not, right?).
Overall, therefore, it was competently told and constructed, but the actual contents left me kind of cold.
crabrock – Sacrifice
This is extremely sad. It gains a lot from knowing how personal it really is to you, and there’s nothing more to say than that: it reads exactly as heartfelt as it probably is. Well done, and I’m sorry, and thankful for the work you do despite it all.
sebmojo – 6 inch Pizza Sub with Cheddar
“Tony turned the paper over, uncomprehending. On its back was intricate writing that was at first incomprehensible…” tell me again how his comprehension was comprised at that moment. I don’t remember if this one was submitted close to deadline as you tend to do, but if it was, it would explain particularly the first paragraph; it feels like it flows weird, as if you rearranged the sentences a few times, but didn’t quite find a good way to start with a strong hook and still have the information conveyed to the reader in a good order. Personally, I’d have put the text after the “readable English text” to increase intrigue.
I liked the middle part, where Tony struggles trying to balance his attraction to Annabel with the urgency of wanting to do something about the invasion plan he just learned about, and how the difficulties just keep piling up. I think the ending is a cop-out, though. Nothing else happens between them to justify the Tony’s crush subplot, and then the anticlimax just occurs and that’s it. I think it would be stronger if something ironic with Annabel happened, like he does arrange a meeting regardless of the paper vanishing or not because he thinks it is a good opportunity to ask her out, and then they toil together in the mines, or he is shot down immediately and to add insult to injury, he’s insured; dunno, that’s your story to tell. But anything more than just “rocks fell, everybody died”. Please.
Overall, rocky start and weak end. Middle chewy enough to make me want more, bastard, at least write that badly enough so I can wholly pan it!
Chairchucker – Time for Filing
This takes a while to get going, and this is both because of a conversation that drags a bit without really setting up too much (I don’t get too much of a feel of the relationship between the narrator and the Captain, for example – not enough to set up him trying to maybe bail the narrator out, or how apologetic her really is, at the end), and also because there’s plain to many useless words. These are entirely redundant lines and can be cut without losing anything, for example:
I’d thought they were more commemorations than celebrations, but what do I know.
Once the time device is introduced, things get a little more interesting, and I enjoy this part of the plot; it’s written quite straightforwardly, maybe even a little terse because you wasted words at the beginning, but it’s not bad. All the elements are there, it’s internally satisfying, and you wrap up all the threads nicely.
Overall, it’s a slow burn that’s got too long a fuse at the start which needs trimming. That would allow you to flesh out the final part even more, maybe give Petra a little more to do, give her and the Captain more character, and such things.
|# ? May 8, 2021 18:39|
The Little God
I never met a god. I heard stories about them, about their miracles and their horrors, their possessions and their hungers. The world bloomed with little gods before I was born—now they were all gone. Sometimes, I was afraid we broke something that could never be fixed.
Dense leaves lashed my face as the hunting party pressed forward. My machete sliced through thick vegetal masses. Vern Ashar, years past his prime, squeezed into a too-small cuirass, hair streaked with gray, led the group deep into the jungles of Roher, chasing a dream and a rumor. The men complained of bug bites, snakes, spiders as big as dogs.
“This is the last adventure,” Vern Ashar shouted, struggling ahead of the group, his tights splattered with mud, his boots hanging off swollen ankles. “Haven’t you ever wanted to see a god?” He laughed wildly, a feverish excitement in his dark eyes.
“Should we be worried?” Favola whispered close to my ear. The hunt’s administrator was a small man, glasses fogged from jungle humidity, his pristine trousers and matching jacket wrecked by days of hiking rough. “I’m afraid he can’t handle this anymore.”
I draped my arm across his shoulders. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of gods,” I said, gentle, teasing. Feeling him out.
He didn’t pull away. “Of course I’m afraid of them. You’ve read the stories.”
“They aren’t like that anymore,” I said. “There haven’t been worshippers in decades.”
“We don’t know what’s out there,” Favola said, eyes scanning the jungle ahead. “And our leader might be unhinged.”
He was right on both counts. Vern Ashar had seen better days, and the jungle hid something in its damp and rotten darkness. Maybe a true god, fat on sacrifice, powerful with prayers.
“Onwards, you lazy cows,” Vern Ashar shouted.
Favola sighed, and we followed.
The first death happened five days into the trip. Snake bitten, horrible fever. Vern Ashar ordered him left behind.
“Human sacrifice,” I said with a stupid smile.
Favola rolled his eyes, his sweaty shoulder close to mine. “I’ve read about gods of sacrifice,” he said. “Mellanar of the Deep was a nasty fellow, lived in a tidal pool and was worshipped by a death cult. They say Vern Ashar cut them down and trapped the god himself.”
“By ‘they’ you mean ‘Vern Ashar,’ right?” I said, touching his arm softly. “Nobody believes his myth more than he does.”
Favola laughed, and I liked that rigid little smile. I liked how fussy he was when he cleared his sleeping space. I liked the way he came to me at night, shy and uncertain. If the others noticed, they said nothing.
Days later, a soldier died of sickness, his insides creeping out of him in horrible liquid spews. Bad water, Vern Ashar said.
“The gods love their tricks,” Favola whispered. “The river deities would poison their bodies just to spite the hunters.” He waggled his eyebrows.
“You’re a very scary little man,” I said, which made him smile.
We camped in makeshift shelters, half jungle leaves and vines, half wax-coated tents. After the first five weeks, I shared my space with Favola, and we held hands in the blackness.
“How many more are going to die for that mad man?” he asked.
“If there’s a god out here, we have to find it,” I said, shifting closer to him, nuzzling up against his side. There were only small comforts on campaign and I took what I could.
Favola ran his fingers through my hair. “I wonder about that, Kor,” he said. “What’s it matter if some jungle god keeps her domain? She’s probably been here for thousands of years.”
I tilted my head up to him. Long sweep of lips, tired, narrow eyes. He’d be pretty if he weren’t so frightened.
“We can’t go back to the black days,” I said. “Mad worshippers cutting their own throats. Fields drenched in blood. Whole towns struck down by impossible plague and lightning.” I kissed his chin. “Come on, we have to sleep.”
“Is that what you call it?” His teeth flashed white, and I laughed.
We stayed up most nights whispering against the press of the jungle. He talked of ice gods in their caverns so far north that no worshippers ever saw them, and gods of the deepest, blackest pits surrounded by writhing worms and maggots and worshipped by the grave diggers and the corpse robbers. Gods of alleyways and puddles, gods of spice markets and bath houses. Gods with no shape, and gods with too many.
I loved the gods as something distant and strange. He loved them like cousins and long-lost friends.
“Why did you come on this expedition?” I asked, staring at the tent ceiling.
“I wanted to see one for myself,” he said, which was the same reason I came.
“Vern Ashar will trap it in the end,” I said.
“I know,” Favola said. He scratched at his chest, a nervous habit. “But this could be the last free god in the world.”
“And it has to be taken.” I tugged at his wrist to catch his attention.
He nodded thoughtfully. “Of course. The days before were awful. There was some beauty, but—“
“They were awful,” I said. “Mass delusions. Endless wars and ravaged countries. Whole nations starved.”
“I thought you loved them,” Favola said softly.
“But I hate them just as much.”
He said nothing, and I settled down to sleep.
Three more died over the next two weeks to sickness. We ate what could be trapped and killed. Snake meat wasn’t so bad when roasted, though Favola refused to touch it. Finnicky, cute little man.
The green depths never relented. The men were exhausted but struggled on. Vern Ashar’s energy remained boundless, and each morning he roused the party, and stomped through the jungle with a wild laughter. Favola seemed dazed and grew quieter. He talked less about the gods, and more about going home.
One morning, the jungle abruptly broke open.
Vern Ashar slashed a path through vines and stumbled onto a paved courtyard. I reached for Favola’s hand but found him too far away, staring up with wide-eyed horror.
A temple rose toward the canopy. Six spires drenched in vine and geometric carvings. Vern Ashar’s scream of joy died in the trees.
“The god is here,” Vern Ashar proclaimed. “Ready weapons. Today we end the curse on this land.”
Grimly I loaded my musket, though I doubted it would fire, and readied my bayonet. Favola had a pistol and a walking stick and the look of a man about to be buried alive.
We gathered at the temple entrance. Vern Ashar led us past statues of humans with tall head dresses and long skirts, past statues of jaguars and snakes and monkeys, through a hallway carved with endless swirls of pictographic reliefs in a language I couldn’t read. Light lanced down from window shafts built high into the temple walls as we reached a wide-open room with shallow trenches in the floor and a set of terraced stone steps that led up to a simple stone altar.
“Blood sacrifice,” Vern Ashar shouted, raising his rapier high. “The god must fall!” He laughed and climbed to the altar, but I hesitated, scanning the room. Favola hung toward the back of the group, and I wished he’d stay close.
The temple was empty. If there were worshippers, they were long gone. We found rotten baskets, scraps of decomposed cloth, barrels infested with insects and mold. Signs of life were scattered all over, but those signs were all dead.
Vern Ashar found a staircase and we followed it beneath the altar platform, down into a basement. We passed through a massive door wrought in gold and studded with precious jewels, and at the end of a cavernous room with more shallow trenches, we found another platform.
In the center stood a small wild boar with long twisted tusks in perfect ivory white. It shied away from the torchlight, and screamed an almost human sound.
“You’re the last of them,” Vern Ashar said, his voice stricken with awe. “I took your brothers and sisters, and now I’ll take you, little jungle god. You’ve been starved for a long time, haven’t you?” He reached into his pack and pulled out a crystal that pulsed with dull blue and white light.
The others wouldn’t go near. I stepped forward and only Favola followed me. I had to see the god for myself, the last true god, hidden away in this jungle temple, withered and ruined. It looked hideous and beautiful, with impossible twisting runic marking on its hide, its tusks shining like diamond, its eyes burning softly red.
Vern Ashar held his rapier at the ready as he approached the little god.
“Wait,” Favola shouted and pushed past me.
And the little god screeched as it rammed its tusks forward.
Vern Ashar parried the attack, but staggered sideways. The little god charged past him and leapt off the platform.
Favola held out his hands as if to stop the little god, but the monster rammed its tusks deep into his guts.
I fired my musket. Vern Ashar shouted something, lost in the volley. Burning black powder and blood filled the room, and Favola’s wet, hideous moans.
Vern Ashar’s crystal flared with impossible light as he threw himself at the little god. Favola was a pallid, slick lump on the floor. Sudden brightness suffused the shrine with holy power and right then I knew the truth of gods, and a horror rushed over my skin and fingers, like the world went dry.
Then the light stopped and the little god was gone.
I rushed to Favola. He barely moved as I pulled him into my arms. “Why did you do that?” I asked, touching his eyelids, his cheeks.
“I didn’t want this,” Favola said as the last of him bled out in thick runnels.
The gods were cruel. I was glad they were crystallized in stasis. The horrors people went through for their worship. The constant heaped-upon loss.
|# ? May 9, 2021 11:00|
there is a reason why my stories feels familiar
Your father has a secret child. You won't meet them in this life because it would (probably) cause significant portions of your blood plasma (Na+, Ca2+, Mg2+, HCO3−, Cl−, etc) to separate into their most basic component parts which would kill you. Painfully. Probably. It's currently hypothetical because no such meeting has ever occurred.
You don't need to worry about it, though. Your half-sibling already knows this and is avoiding you. Focus on time travel.
Time travel is possible, painless, and easy. Relatively easy. Easier than you think. It's less "finding a needle in a haystack" than it is "putting on a blindfold, throwing a needle out of a plane, having it plummet through the sky and shoot through the eye of a second needle hidden within a haystack, jumping out of said plane (still blindfolded), and finding them both." With infinite time, this is actually quite simple. Statistically speaking.
Of course, you don't have infinite time (you're only human, after all) but the good news is that you don't need it. You just need to arrange certain things into specific locations. Take out the statistics. Like rigging a carnival game.
Right now, you are the second needle. Your future self is the first. The haystack is your precise, universal, physical location. The metaphorical person throwing/flying/jumping is your consciousness. The plane is, well, a lot of things. All things. You moving across tectonic plates, tectonic plates moving across the earth, the earth moving around the sun, the sun moving through the galaxy, the galaxy moving through space.
Should your consciousness (housed within your physical brain) ever be in the exact same location within the universe at the same time across time, the needles hit and you have time travel! All of the thoughts, memories, and experiences you haven't had yet will fill your brain instantaneously. It really is that simple! You just have to account for the fact that you're on a planet with an orbital velocity of ~30 km/s inside a galaxy moving ~500 km/s, blah blah blah, not important. You just need to know that you could sit on a toilet for the rest of your life and not move an inch but you'd never be in the precisely same location in relation to the rest of existence ever. Ever. So you need to rig it.
Now you're asking yourself, how do I make sure I'm in the right place at the right time? Seems impossible. Well, you're going to waste about fifteen years in the future figuring that out. Unfortunately, your math is wrong (no surprise there, right?). Yet through pure cosmic coincidence you do line up with the aforementioned secret sibling and time travel anyway. This shouldn't be possible. Two totally different consciousnesses shouldn't be able to merge. Your best guess will be genetic similarities due to a high degree of incest maybe ten, maybe sixteen generations back but you don't know for sure. The woman who is the greatest expert in this field and who you desperately want to talk to is about to turn two somewhere outside Mumbai and won't be of any help for several decades.
You/your secret sibling will be diagnosed with schizophrenia. Neither of you have schizophrenia. You're just sharing a brain. You do have depression but you already know that. You do make a ton of money. Crypto, meme stocks, all the stupid, funny things you currently wish you'd taken a chance on, you grab on your second time around. You live in Hawaii. It's great.
You want to do this right, though. You want that first version of you to time travel without accidentally merging into your secret sibling. But how do you tell yourself that the math is wrong? And when do you do it? You risk ruining the whole thing, sending yourself down a path where you don't time travel at all. Not to mention the horrifying possibility of your blood plasma breaking apart if you get too close to your old physical body so a covert correction is out of the question.
Eventually, you decide to just send an email explaining everything. Occam's Razor and all that. Unfortunately, that makes you (first go you) erratic and unpredictable and obsessed and very, very weird. You basically ruin your own life. No relationships. No friends. Everyone thinks you are insane. That version doesn't time travel. Fortunately, you know where to be for the secret sibling jump and so you go back in time again.
Third go round, you try something new. Doesn't work. Doesn't matter. Fourth go round, same thing. By five, you (future future future future you) are getting very, very weird yourself. The human consciousness isn't supposed to last this long. Too many memories. Not enough hippocampus. Schizophrenia is looking a lot more real. It's not pretty.
But, by this time, you know (with a comfortable degree of certainty) where the first version of yourself should be in their future (in relation to all of existence, blah blah blah) at a very specific point in their life. Spoiler alert: spaceship. And, yes, it's awesome. And the flight path is extremely specific. And you've gotten on that ship literally every time across multiple lives so it is as close to a safe bet as you can get.
All that needs to happen now is for you to get the first version of you into place as a sort of "bookmark" so that when the first version of you, in their future flying through space, presses their forehead against the glass to admire the stars then the metaphorical needles will hit.
But but but what about what about stop thinking about paradoxes and rules. You're limited by a three dimensional mindset. Stop. And focus. You're almost done. You just need to make this happen.
But how do you make it happen?
Well, eventually, after many failed attempts, you're going to try and disguise your instructions to yourself as an entry for an obscure writing contest on a dead internet comedy forum, knowing full well that we are the kind of person to try something stupid and silly "just in case." So you're going to do something stupid and silly now, okay? As soon as you finish reading this sentence, and I do mean literally as soon as you finish reading this sentence, please please please look up at the ceiling and take a deep breath.
And I hope to god you didn't hesitate. Jesus Christ.
|# ? May 9, 2021 18:06|
Dead Ireland lay starboard. On the icebreaker-cum-cargo ship Bull, Zoe could just make out the remnants of what once was a coastal town. Her eye had been drawn to it by a ferris wheel, standing alone in a sea of dust that used to be wood, concrete, people. Metal was among the few materials surviving longer in the new world, because it didn’t rust right anymore.
Were there survivors further inland, where the destructive ocean wasn’t so close, where its devouring vapors were kept at bay by winds of fortune?
A low buzzing forced itself through her contemplation of a world wrung dry by its oceans, streams, lakes, rain, mist, condensation. Already? The alarm indicated that the first barrier protecting her from air intent on killing her, the oil coating her drysuit, had almost worn off.
It had been twelve years since just a few drops of anti-polarized water had splashed overboard an ocean laboratory in international waters of the North Sea and caused a chain reaction that within days had twisted all water on earth to its wrong polarity. And Zoe could not, would not get used to it. She wanted to shower again. Get drenched in the rain. After her freak survival as a teenage intern in a hermetically sealed clean room, she had vowed to find a way of twisting the water back, eradicating what the remnants of humanity had dubbed terwa.
So, with the buzzing sound getting more urgent, Zoe finally got to what she had come outside for: check the route to her projected goal. After the climate collapse of the late 2030s, the ice caps had all but vanished. Conversely, the gulf stream had stopped delivering its payload of warmth to Europe. But with the terwa cataclysm, it had started to flow again. Backwards, of course. So if the calculations at the Institute were correct, there was now a “natural” pipeline from Greenland towards the south of Iceland, sucking in what might have been left of the glaciers. And in this icy vein of terwa, the most precious gemstone might be found: a piece of frozen water, actual water, from which they could develop a panacea to fix the world.
Zoe’s gloves had already started to smoke when she began dangling the thermometer unit off the ship’s side. The terwa vapors in the air had encountered the unavoidable traces of moisture absorbed into the polymer fabric, and reacted violently. Her skin began to warm. If any terwa penetrated her second layer of protection, the sweat on her hands would cause them to instantly get obliterated. Calm down, Zoe. The airlock was just a few steps behind her.
Suddenly, something yanked on the chain. Zoe was flung forward, slammed into the railing and had her breath knocked out of her; the lenses of her helmet fogged, and she was disoriented enough to not notice for a second that she was almost dragged over the side of the ship, into the churning terwa sea below. The shock made her stop breathing entirely.
The moisture harvesting membranes of her drysuit kicked in, cleared her vision, and Zoe could just barely make out something moving below. The bodies of terwa-men, skin burned off, muscles bulging in sickly tumors where the cells had mutated in a desperate effort to stave off obliteration, bone partially dusted where blood vessels had boiled, but somehow still alive in a parody of what the word meant. These creatures, who had their water replaced with a constant thirst that terwa could not quench, now craved any drop of real moisture that still existed.
The warning buzz had become a constant drone in Zoe’s ears. Her hands felt hot, both from the reaction eating away at her gloves and because of the exertion. But she needed the readings to know they were on course. She buckled her knees, put one leg against the railing, and started pulling on the chain with all her strength. It started to dig into her gloves. One rip in the weakened material, and it would be over -
Something grabbed Zoe around the hip, and an arm reached out to hold onto the chain together with her. “On three,” a voice filtered through a drysuit said.
She nodded. The count happened, and she and her savior pulled as hard at they could. The thermometer was flung onto the deck, with a terrible thing that once was an arm still clutching it, oozing blood of all the wrong colors.
After a long day of calculations and double-checking values with data recovered from the very ocean lab that had caused this whole mess, Zoe could allow herself to relax, having dinner with her savior, captain Ureos himself. He was ten years older than her, and she could still not imagine how hard it must have been for a full adult to adapt to a world so radically different.
“I still think you didn’t have to take this risk,” he said, his mustache twisted in disdain. “My crew is well experienced enough to find Iceland without your measurements.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you - I don’t fully trust myself,” Zoe answered. “If my theories are wrong, I’m wasting all your time on this excursion. Better validate them early.”
He took a long swig from his glass. The drink, a thickened gloop of eternally reprocessed water stretched into oblivion with a tasteless, slightly sticky gel, was called ratwe. A moniker alluding both to the fact that it was yet another wrong form of the lost life-giving liquid, and to its skunky taste.
With a grimace, Ureos put it down again. “Your Institute developed ratwe, and the drysuit coating. I have every reason to trust your process.”
Zoe hid a flush of pride behind her glass. “The coating needs some work still. It’s not an issue if we make it in the lab. But the stuff you process aboard here, you can’t get it water-free all the way. That’s why terwa vapors can degrade it.”
“Maybe you could come up with a way to dry our machines out. We could sell the process.”
Zoe smirked as she lowered a spoon into the bowl in front of her. “Are you offering me a job?”
The captain stopped her from eating, stood up and went to a drawer. With his back turned, he unlocked it accompanied by a series of clicking sounds. Eventually, he produced a pot, and in it, a small green plant. Zoe gasped. “Is that thyme?”
Carefully, Ureos clipped a few of the tiny leaves off. “I’m offering you an opportunity,” he said while sprinkling some on the ratwe-wettened gruel made from powdered mushrooms, lichens and other produce that was rescued from those first chaotic months of every twisted water molecule trying to murder every single remnant of life on earth. Zoe almost wept as she took the first bite of something tasting like anything in years.
“I have to be honest with you: I don’t really believe that the Institute will find a solution to a world full of terwa,” Ureos said while eating his own, unflavored food. “Even if you recover some ice, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to reverse-engineer what made water water.”
Zoe was too blissfully savoring each flavor molecule to protest, so he continued. “They compensated me handily in goods, formulas and blueprints to take you on this trip, and I’ll be able to trade those to other settlements for a good while. But that will dry up, and they won’t send you out again if you come back empty-handed.”
Her bowl was empty, licked sparkling clean, and now she finally had the clarity to register what he said; Zoe’s face began to contort, but Ureos held up a hand and went on after a sigh. “Listen, I’m an optimist, despite what I just said. My belief that we humans can turn every catastrophe into an opportunity has kept me going, made me dare salvage and repair the Bull, find a source of diesel for his engines, seal up his interior, and look for other survivors to sell things to. But I’m not a dreamer.”
He looked her right in the eye. “As far as I know, I’m the most successful man in the world. But I’m nothing without innovation. Work for me, invent new things I can sell, let’s make this new world our own.”
Zoe furrowed her brow. “We won’t get the old world back anyway. But maybe one where rain won’t kill us anymore.”
“In the old world, I had a minimum-wage job cleaning some rich guy’s underground shelter where he hid from the summer sun. When terwa came, I founded a community in there that’s now my loyal, happy crew. You were an unpaid intern having your idealism exploited by academia. Now you are inventing things that literally keep humanity alive.”
“Barely. It feels to me like we are turning into abominations ourselves, just ratwe- instead of terwa-men.” She held her glass upside down for a second, which didn’t spill a drop of the goo inside. “Every cycle we put these precious untwisted molecules through dilutes their essence.”
“That doesn’t sound very scientific,” Ureos said with a raised eyebrow.
“Neither does your hope that my inventions will somehow make living in a terwa world more bearable.”
“We made the old one almost unbearable already. Then we made terwa. That’s the bed we have to sleep in.”
“Well, I’m gonna throw an ice cube under those sheets.”
“If you say so.” Ureos locked the thyme away. “What did the measurements say, by the way?”
Zoe crossed her arms. “Two full degrees lower than last time I took the temperature, which is exactly as predicted by the data.”
Three days later, Zoe stood on the Bull’s deck again, watching the sickle of a moon sickly reflect on the surface of a sea that never flowed quite right. The light of the stars was distorted through the terwa haze, shining every color but the clean white she had known from her childhood. Again, her drysuit told her to step inside already, and again, she savored the bath in hostile air more than she should. She hadn’t talked to the captain again since his dinner invitation. Every time she thought about it, she shivered a little. Nothing had happened, and he had given off no hostile intent, but she kept being painfully reminded of the fact that she was alone with her mission, in a hermetically sealed bunker drifting at sea, no control, no guarantees but his word. And doubt in his mind.
“It’s late for a measurement. Fishing for terwa-men again?”
She hadn’t heard the captain approach and startled enough to almost drop her sextant. He put a hand on her shoulder that was meant to be reassuring. “Have you thought about my offer?”
“We are approaching Iceland,” Zoe said. “Soon, I’ll have my prize, or not. Can we not talk on the way back?”
“Depending on your decision, it might be more…efficient…to turn around right now.”
She could not make out his face through the reflection of the multi-hued starlight on his helmet’s visor. “My decision depends on what I find,” she said firmly.
He gazed in the direction of the Bull’s brow. Pointed - for now - towards Iceland, where a block of true ice might wait.
He went back in without another word. Zoe stood still like the ferris wheel on the coast of Ireland. How soon would she see it again, and under whose control?
She went back to the air-lock, applied another coating of sealant to her suit, went back out, and commandeered a lifeboat.
Zoe had not planned to sleep, but wouldn’t have been able to anyway; her drysuit’s alarm was a constant ring in her ears now. Because it could not measure exactly how much her crude re-appliance of coating had extended Zoe’s survivability, it was all but useless. It did keep her alert, though, aware of the thin layers of metal boat, oil coating and polymer fabric separating her clammy skin from an ocean that wanted to eat it alive. She had just enough fuel to reach Iceland and make it back to where she’d left the Bull. Her drysuit’s integrity on the other hand - well, she’d just have to see. And the captain, would he come after her, stay moored, or just turn back in the name of ‘effciency’, or, as she’d put it, greed?
A heavy impact cut through her dark thoughts, something hitting the boat hard enough to make it rock, make the ocean splash, and she scrambled away from the spray that would rapidly eat through the every-so-slightly moist coating, soak into her suit, and snap hungrily for the flesh beneath. While watching an empty expanse of terwa around her, sweating beads thick as ratwe, she blindly fumbled for the harpoon gun.
A terwa-man, like leftovers of a surf-n-turf-buffet glued together, dragged itself over the railing of her lifeboat. She screamed, and the harpoon shot went wide. A hand with flesh undulating along too many fingers closed itself around her ankle. With the butt of her gun, she hammered on what might be a wrist, and caused a crunch like someone very inexperienced at eating lobster. Under the still persisting grip of the terwa-soaked fingers, she felt her leg go numb and burn up at the same time. She yanked it away with both hands, and the creature’s arm came right off, like she’d seen before with the thermometer. Her own fingers were frozen in a claw gesture of disgust and terror; could she touch this safely, get it off her, to prevent the perverted liquid from poisoning her?
The abomination hadn’t given up. Zoe snarled. This was not how her search would end. She hit the thing across the face with her weapon, pushed herself backwards with her good leg, impacted the supply box that had housed the gun. Another harpoon, quick, before it recovered! It lunged for her, the morning sun reflecting off her visor into her opponent’s strangely human eyes, filtered through unnatural terwa vapors -
The harpoon pierced the eye, shattered the reflection, threw the thing back into the sea that had made it. Zoe scraped the rest off her with another harpoon’s blunt end, hands shaking as they cramped hard in a desperate attempt to not damage the fabric further. She was deafened by the drysuit’s alarm. Every time she moved, she imagined a crinkling, bone-dry, uncoated material just waiting to crumble and leave her exposed. It wasn’t that bad, she told herself. Her leg, her leg, that was bad. In the box, she found an emergency bandage. No time to apply it correctly; she slashed it open with the tip of the harpoon, spraying white powder everywhere. Calcium chloride, very hygroscopic; emergency water absorber. She piled it on her leg, felt it draw water from it, burning her skin, but the pain, at least, told her that her cells were working as intended. For now. Weeping wasteful tears, she pulled the bandage tight around the damaged drysuit leg.
It was almost noon, a cold sun sending octarine rays onto a sea the color of madness, when Zoe began to admit to herself that she wouldn’t make it. The coast of Iceland had appeared before her, the lifeboat was making good pace, but the air around her suit was shimmering from the heat it sent off, and she felt it inside as well; a fever of anti-water obliterating her life essence. But she’d at least push through to see if she was right. She needed a bay, where the gulf stream would catch, cold enough to preserve ice. A bay like the one she drifted towards right now, driven by instinct or fate, she didn’t know.
Something impacted the boat again. Zoe limply lifted the harpoon gun, but nobody peeked over the side. So she did.
Her eyes widened.
Thirty minutes later, the buzzing in her ears had stopped, and she didn’t know if it was because they had burned out or the alarm did.
“Hey, do you need a ride?”
Oh, it was the alarm after all. With the effort of Atlas lifting the world, Zoe rose to her feet. She felt something crumble off her leg and hoped it was just calcium chloride.
“I need a fridge!” She yelled back, and lifted her world above her head: a piece of jagged ice, not much bigger than her head. Its surface reflected half normal, half wrong, crystal yin-yang, terwa kept by cold from consuming the contents. Inside, something sloshed, lifeblood from the world before.
Leaning on the railing of the Bull, which had indeed followed Zoe almost all the way, stood captain Ureos in his suit. Harpoon gun trained on the triumphant researcher.
“I think I’m gonna spell it out this time. If the Institute manages to turn the oceans back, anyone can sail the waters again. People can just exchange information without me as an intermediate. It’s bad for business, it’s bad for my people. We’re all getting used to this world. Leave it as it is, and help me conquer it.”
Zoe felt herself burn up, shiver, vision clouded by the haze of the obliteration reaction, arms aching from the weight of the ice, hands freezing up from contact with it, but she had never been clearer-headed in her life.
“I decline your offer, captain.”
“I’m no longer asking for your decision.” He trained the harpoon. The projectile flew. Zoe stood unmoving.
The sharp metal pierced the ice between her hands, shattered it. From inside, water showered her, wonderful cool clean fresh, heavy rain, drenching her in childhood. All it was now, memory, soon to be lost. Terwa vapors already reached for it, heated up her soaked garments. Clawed and slavered for the life beneath.
She could try to somehow make it back up the Bull, severely burned, maybe they could nurse her back. Or she could test a wild theory, the last chance to do something with her discovery. A tiny amount of terwa had started a chain reaction that consumed all the free water on earth. Now, what if a comparatively large amount of untainted water would enter a whole body of terwa?
Zoe spread her arms and threw herself into the ocean. Terwa splashed high, met the puddle in her boat, and the resulting explosion’s shockwave sent her deep under. She was breathless, surrounded by sudden blackness. Reaching for her with anti-polarized tendrils.
She floated in a bubble of real water. More than she had started with.
The ocean boiled around her, warmed her to comfort, and she rose up with it, her drysuit keeping her breathing, safe, as the world violently remade itself in ripples caused by the tiny pebble that was her.
|# ? May 9, 2021 21:56|
Rising over the ridge, the drone kicked up a small amount of silt from its twin fans as it advanced towards the canyon ahead. It’s pilot three miles above noted this on the rear facing camera, but dismissed it as he pushed forward towards the sudden drop ahead. Previous surveys of the area had said this was just a dip in ocean floor, but the pilot had seen some odd echoes and blurriness that suggested to him that there was more to it. An outcropping or ledge near the top of the canyon could easily conceal interesting topological features. Most likely there was nothing in the depths but some glow in the dark fish, or maybe a giant squid but the pilot felt it was important to have an accurate scan.
The drone had fairly sophisticated programming for situations such as this. A drone that could survive several miles under the ocean was expensive, and the engineers who built it wanted to be sure it could do its job and return even if direct control was lost. Thankfully one of the engineers had worked on Roombas before, and the collision avoidance and return software was easy to modify.
As it reached the edge, the sonar mounted in it’s nose returned data that suggested there was a more to the canyon than initially thought, and the pilot sent the drone in, slowly descending while spinning. About thirty feet down, the drone’s sonar suddenly went wild, returning all sorts of small objects floating in a gap underneath what the pilot now knew was an overhang. What the small objects were was still up in the air, but at least he’d found something. The hard part was going to be figuring out what it was, and if he could get something out of it.
The drone automatically began to hover in place now that the pilot was no longer telling it to move, it’s gyroscope holding it even though there was a weak current inside the canyon. The pilot made some minor adjustments to the drone’s position, getting a better angle for the equipment on board the drone. This deep in the ocean the infrared camera gave little information beyond that it was warmer inside the canyon than out, and it seemed to increas the deeper the drone looked. Sonar only showed a swarm of small objects and noise, so the pilot decided to turn on the light and visual camera, risking driving away any living creatures for a glimpse further in.
Initially the pilot thought he had lost the signal to the drone, but after a moment he realized that what he thought was colorful static was in fact an almost hypnotic pattern of swirling particles, cascading in and around each other in a whirl of scintillation. He stared at it for a few seconds, then toggled the switch to extend the sample collection arm on the drone. The only way to determine if there was more to canyon than this small eddy current of particles was to send the drone in, but he didn’t want to just collide with the side of the canyon. Using the arm like a blind man’s cane was generally considered the safest way to advance when visibility was limited, and the drone had been designed to lose the arm if necessary.
He began to inch the drone forward, waiting for the tell tale signs of damage or solid objects impacting the arm. Slight resistance was felt as the drone advanced, but this was attributed to the cloud of particles. He managed to advance the drone about a hundred feet, when the camera suddenly cleared and gave a breathtaking view. The canyon was not really a canyon, more like an entrance into a giant cavern, filled with bioluminescent plants and fish that even to his barely trained eyes were undiscovered species. He immediately toggled the light, but even without it the camera had more than sufficient light to examine the cavern. Using the sonar, he managed to find the cavern was almost as large as a college football stadium with many other exits.
Moving further into the cavern, the drone’s camera began to pick up more detail on the small creatures. They appeared less monstrous than the usual deep sea fish people learn about. They looked almost like someone had taken regular fish, made them bioluminescent, and dumped them four miles under the sea in some out of the way place. As the drone drifted forward, the infrared camera started to show a much warmer section at the back of the cavern, behind what appeared to be a low wall. Seeing that, the pilot went back and noted that it was almost body temperature inside the cavern but began to drop immediately on exiting. This temperature gradient was responsible for the odd swirling currents outside.
Slowly gliding forward inside the cavern, the pilot approached the low wall at the other side of the cavern. Along the way he was occasionally forced to glide around schools of fish that were lazily making their way around the cavern. Closer to the wall, a small warning light started to flash on the drone controls. The thermal camera had picked up a significant heat source nearby and was warning him to be wary. The drone was well built, but there were thermal vents all over the ocean and some reached temperatures high enough to damage parts of the drone. To get a better look at the other side of the wall, the pilot stopped the drone and began to move it upwards to get a proper angle. When he did so, he saw the source of the warning. There was a small thermal vent on the other side of the low wall, just big enough that it could warm the cavern but not so big that it would kill any of the animals and plants inside it. Making a note of it’s location, the pilot decided to investigate the other possible exits out of the cavern.
Approaching the first, it was only an indentation into the rock that was covered with the brightly glowing plants. The second was the same, while the third held an additional indentation at the bottom that almost resembled a bird’s nest made of stone. What looked like small eggs but could have been small round stones completed the effect, and the pilot saved a still picture of it just for his own. Sometimes the depths of the ocean gave some odd situations and he liked to keep memories in case he didn’t get back down here. He moved onto the third and 4th, which were similar to the first two, but the fifth gave him pause. The rest of the indentations all were covered in a variety of glowing plants, but this one was different. It was shaped like a large egg, more than large enough to accommodate the drone if he chose to enter. However, the plants reached to the very lip of the opening and stopped as if cut off with a razor. The thermal imaging camera showed no data, and when he turned on the light whatever was inside seemed to almost swallow it with no reflection about three feet in. Even sonar didn’t give much of an answer, flickering between empty void and solid object just a few feet in. Deciding to return to this one, the drone pilot sent the drone on a path that would accurately map the rest of the cavern, making sure to get images of each of the different animals and plants it saw. It’s arm was capable of grabbing samples, but the sample containers had been left off for this outing as it was originally a mapping expedition. The pilot had no worries about someone returning, this cavern was probably someone’s doctoral thesis.
Now that the drone had examined the rest of the cavern, the pilot sent it smoothly back to the unknown indent in the wall. The pilot still was unsure what was inside the space, sonar, thermal, none of the instruments showed anything conclusive. The pilot decided to risk it. Extending the collection arm once more, he advanced the drone forward slowly. As soon as the arm bumped into the darkness at the back of the cave, the camera began to spin wildly and multiple warning lights started flashing on the control screen. The pilot let go of the controls, allowing the drones own programming, combined with it’s internal gyroscope to level it out while he read through the warning lights and replayed the video to try and figure out what had happened.
The video was less than helpful, it looked more like someone had left the video running on a phone and then dropped it. The drone had been spun around wildly in all three dimensions, and even slowed down the best he could tell was that something had come out of the indentation, but whether it was some new creature, or just a natural phenomenon like the thermal vents was still unknown. The collection arm was mangled, but the rest of the drone still functioned. As soon as he had control, he spun the drone around, searching the cavern to find what had left the indentation. His initial search was directly behind where the drone had been, but there was no indication that any rock or cavern wall had exploded outward. He began a slow circle of the cavern and found nothing new until he reached the indentation containing the bird’s nest type formation inside of it. Now, to the drone’s sensors it had the same blank and confusing look from the previous indentation. Sonar was again sketchy, and the plants around the edges were now cut off. The pilot checked the tape, and there had definitely been a more ragged edge to the plant life when he had first examined it, though it had been fairly sparse compared to the others. Slowly moving towards the indentation, suddenly the blank spot appeared to rear up and weave threateningly towards the drone.
He backed the drone slowly away towards the center of the cavern, and the spot now settled back to immobility, clearly feeling less threatened now that the drone was moving away. Glancing at the drone’s control board once more, the pilot noted there was sufficient battery life to recover the drone. Noting this cavern for the researchers he worked for, he piloted the drone back out through the entrance. As soon as it was clear of the cavern, he set it to return on auto pilot and began filling out the paperwork to explain the damage.
|# ? May 9, 2021 23:38|
What the gently caress was Canaan? They kept calling us Canaan. They also called the brutes in Amman —who sacrificed their babies to Moloch— Canaan. These were crazy people from the deserts in the South: They said a burning bush told them to take our land one day. They said a fiery mountain told them not to want your neighbour’s property. Well, which is it? Do you want our city or not?
My buddy Malek said to me, “we should start a fire for them, hide behind it, and yell ‘go away’ in a spooky voice.”
I met Malek in Jericho. We were putting a new storey on some merchant’s house. Malek did the wood; I did the plaster. We were behind schedule, and working under moonlight, when Malek said, “watch out for me: I don’t want to get caught.” He ran off, his shoulders loaded with timbers, each as long as three men are tall. He made a racket, all the way through town. Every time we worked the night, he went where the lumbermen hewed the timbers. He’d steal two or three beams out of the pile. We were able to blame it on the tribesmen who started amassing by the city walls. It was those crazies: Joshua’s men. They were making camps.
One night, our two families were eating together at Malek’s house. He lived outside of the walls, near the woods, where he’d built a sizeable shack in the slums from wood he’d cut, or more likely stolen.
Malek leaned in close, with a wide smile. He said to me, “I’ve made a boat, Anu.”
“A big one,” he said, “like the Egyptians, and the Phoenicians.”
“Where in the name of our king have you put a boat?” I said.
“I made a new roof for my home. It’s a boat, upside down.”
He pointed to the timbers overhead, and sure enough the roof was the hull of a great vessel.
He said, “think about it. We know how to build. Our wives know about grain and the earth. Banu, my eldest, can hunt.”
By this point our families had turned to listen. His wife, Chaya, was rolling her eyes.
“Together, we could build our own Jericho,” he said, “we could be our own kings.”
I told him the truth: He’s loving crazy. He still is, and Chaya was nodding at me then.
“Crazy?!” Malek insisted, “staying here: that’d be crazy.”
He pointed at me with his cup, spilling the water.
“Those men by the walls, they’ll invade one day. Then what? We go to Amman, start throwing our babies into fires?That’s crazy!”
Kedma was unwell that morning. She said she was sick like this before she fell pregnant with Amzi and Harel. As Malek carried on his rant about this new kingdom, she looked to me. She said, “we can’t stay here.”
She was right. The tribesmen were growing restless, and growing in number. Sometimes they would gather and chant in protest at the walls, saying the crazy words the burning bush told them. I put my hand on Kedma’s belly. I told her, “If we are leaving, we have to do it soon.”
I raised my cup, said “we cut this down tomorrow.”
Well suddenly Malek became all sensible. He spent all night fussing over this and that: How much grain, where to cook, whether we should get some guys from the site to help us row, or whether it’s too many mouths to feed.
The next day, I was sent to the city, to trade our perishable bread for dry meat, oats, or anything for the voyage. I’d managed to fill a pot with grain, and bought a net for fishing. Throughout the entire city, I could hear the chants from the southern wall. The crazies were incensed, yelling in their call and response.
“THE PROMISED LAND!”
Over and over. Then the warriors of Jericho flooded the streets, ordering us all away from the South. I made a beeline for the Northern gate, toward Malek’s place, among crowds that clogged every pinch point in the streets —how they shoved. I could see the men on the Southern wall loosing their arrows down, and the tribesmens’ chanting turned to a roar. Horns blasted. The tribesmen screamed “HEAVE!” Dust came billowing Northward like a wave on the beaches of the saltlake. The wall had fallen.
I was carried in the tide of men who swarmed out of the North gate. When the land opened up, the crowds became a chaos of bodies crossing in every direction. In the distance, I could see Malek toppling the roof of his house, righting the boat, which had crashed through his neighbour’s hovel. Men gathered around him, heaving the ship toward the river, half a mile away. Our wives were aboard, my sons were heaving the boat, and the strangers were pleading with us. They held their youngest children in the air, begging us to load them on the boat. The longer we heaved, the larger the crowd we gathered. By the time the ship was afloat, hundreds were tussling on the shore.
Malek held his axe high.
“You can’t all come on!” he said, “we’ll row as many as we can to Naphthali, where you all get off!”
He boarded them one by one, old and young, men and women, carrying pots, clothes and blankets. He boarded them until the timbers began to creak. Then he said, “no more,” and held his axe to those families wading in the shallows. Some of them followed us on the banks for miles, crying “shame!” pelting stones at us.
The people used their bowls and jugs to pull water from the hold. It ingressed through the gaps in the timbers, and made for an endless task. At Napthali, we got rid of that boat in exchange for some cows, and headed West before the merchant realised how leaky it was.
“We need to go West, Anu,” said Malek, “Past Ha Horesh, to the seas!”
I settled at Ha Horesh for some years: a weird warrior temple with some farms attached. Malek went further West, to a city on the coast. I went there from time to time to see him, although it was to trade our cheeses. He never settled. He was building a new roof for the carpentry workshop he started, and I recognised the design.
He said to me, “the merchants say that the sea out there is but a great river, with the Egyptians on the South bank, and the Phoenecians on the North. If we go further than they have, we can make our own Jericho.”
“Where will I sell my cheese?” I said.
“That’s the best part” said Malek, “you get to keep your cheese!”
And he said we’d be back, to pick up friends, to start the new Jericho. You were only two years old then, Amon, but that’s why we’re heading East, back to where you were born.
|# ? May 9, 2021 23:46|
He awoke with a jolt, his blanket tossed aside in some frightful fit that left him exposed to the air conditioner on the wall. The sweat wasn't helping either, sending a chill through him as he looks over to the nightstand and reaches for the spiral bound notebook, a pencil clipped to the top and a bookmark placed carefully between its pages near the end.
Keep it in focus. Write down every detail you can.
He had been in a labyrinth this time, endless halls of gray granite that echoed into the endless stars above him, and he knew he was being chased by something. No features he could describe, no sound that remained in his ears, a pure and primal emotion that led him scurrying into the twists and turns of endless gray stone until he was chased into the pit and devoured. A meaningless dream with a meaningless end.
But he was close now, he tells himself in the light of the alarm clock. To experience one raw emotion in a dream could quite easily lead to another, after all. Perhaps then he could reach that place once more, that blinding light and endless warmth and abundant joy, that dream that set him on this course for the past seven years.
He set the notebook down and stood up, his heart finally calming down, taking the time to stretch before starting his morning ritual. Shower, shave, a simple breakfast, prepare a sandwich for lunch and with some extra time on his hands go back over the rest of his dream logs to find those connecting threads and prepare for the next night. Lucid dreaming was a skill like any other. You build small, practice the nightly affirmations, keep everything down in the logs, and then you'd become God if only for a few scant hours each night. At least, that's what the books always promised.
Fly like a bird! Live your greatest fantasies, explore beautiful new worlds that live only in your mind! Control the greatest play to ever exist, again and again, for free*!
Promises, promises. The books always have promises. Results, however, were scant. No matter how many kingdoms he saved or new worlds he discovered or vistas he soared above like an eagle, that one simple flash of joy eluded him again and again, night after night. So he'd try again tonight, he tells himself.
He was close.
Everything after he left the house was a meaningless blur. The walk to the bus station, the trip to the office, another day of spreadsheets and quarterly reports, another sandwich, another long afternoon, and another trip back home.
Once he was back, spend an hour on the bike while listening to a podcast at random, then dinner and a book. The idea was to get as many new ideas in his mind, give him new ground to grow the base for a dream then build from there. At first he'd end up going too far in, adding in shows or games alongside everything else, but it'd leave him a confused mess. It took him a while to realize that he needed to spread it out, only one or two at a time to keep things from running into one another. Otherwise, he'd have cyborg knights fighting talking planets, and he'd wake up confused and further away from that euphoria than when he started.
He’d look back over his dream logs, from those first few years and infrequent dates, watching as more and more of the mental landscape opened up for him. And as he dreamed and improved in his dreaming, they became longer, more detailed. Rolling green hills that stretched on forever grew towns and castles, mountains and rivers. Faceless mannequins started showing features, and voices became distinct and new to him. Or maybe they were people from his work? Was there a difference?
Seven years in and he was writing in narratives for his characters, letting his stories play out in his mind. But that first dream still eluded him. No matter the princesses he saved or the monsters he put down, he’d wake up with everything but that sheer, brilliant joy in his heart that brought him here.
And so another day passed and he found himself back in bed, ready to set out once more.
The world around him came into sharp focus as he found himself surrounded by trees, their canopy stretching upwards into infinity, leaving him in a vine-choked gloom that closed in from every direction. Aside from the perfectly smooth ground he found himself on, the rest of the jungle around him was uneven and hazardous, daring him to step away from that one solid spot and into the tangled growth before him. Next came the colors, his mind painting over the scenery, the murky gray replaced with every verdant hue he could imagine hanging off branch and vine, sharp against the brown bark and forest floor.
Jungle dreams were rare, restricted to scenes from nature magazines and documentaries or fantastical poems, which filled him with a sense of curiosity and caution. Stepping from that soft grass hill, he descended into the eaves of the trees, brushing aside the vines, feeling the knotted roots digging into his bare feet. The jungle seemed to move around him, roots rising up to trip at him, branches pressing in to scrape at his side, trunks twisting and obscuring as he was herded in deeper and deeper still as the darkness grows around him. The colors draining once more until everything was a muted, solid gray.
Solid gray brick. He was back in the labyrinth.
He turned and looked straight into the eye of an infinite void.
What a waste.
He awoke with a jolt. His alarm clock a light in the darkness, the numbers burning his eyes.
He didn’t reach for his journal this time.
It was cold this morning, his breath leaving a fog in the air as he crammed his hands into his pockets, making his way down the street to the bus station as the sidewalk stretched laboriously under his feet. Had it always been this long? Did every city spread out stops like this, or was it just this one, with the bus with no shocks and the empty coffee cups in the rain gutter? Did the bus always need new shocks or was it supposed to jostle up and down on every turn like some sick carnival ride? At least the office was the same as ever.
A voice? Wait, it was the receptionist, a girl in a smart white blouse and a green streak in her hair. He could see tattoos peeking out from under the sleeve of her shirt, the smile on her face wavering a bit.
“Are you okay?” She asked, and he realized he was staring. He gave her a wave and a smile, said he hadn’t slept well and moved on towards the elevators. Did they always have a receptionist?
He squeezed into the elevator, briefcase held up to his chest, staring ahead at the door. Watching it open, letting out a little more pressure, closing again. Open, release, close. Then it was his turn to step out, and he took in a deep breath that smelled like coffee. Keys clicking, a soft murmur filling the air around him as he headed three cubes down, turned left, then two more on his right. At least he recognized the paperwork on the desk, the sticky notes plastered on his monitor in a cascading hue. Important dates, paperwork that needed to be done, the office potluck, new policies on workplace diversity. Noted, pasted and filed in a row along the sides and bottom. How old were some of these notices?
Still, no bother. He just needed to get through another day and get back home to dream again.
“Hey,” A voice said. He looked up and saw a woman. Janice. HR?
“Just wanted to remind you that you’re coming up for PTO,” She said, her voice soft and comforting, most likely from years of practice with bad news. “You have some extra saved up, but you’ll lose it at the end of this fiscal year, okay?”
He nodded, gave her some assurance about getting the paperwork in, then watched as she walked off, hearing her talk to another cubicle. He heard laughter from near the elevator, and saw the gaggle near the door to the break room. It looks like he missed the potluck.
The ride back home was worse, somehow, but he made it back to his home once again, sliding out of his shoes, taking off his coat and sinking into the couch. The weight of the day hung on his shoulders, the exercise bike sitting in the corner. Not today, he told himself. Today, he would induge a bit to make up for the horrible last few nights. Order up some fast food, catch up on some shows and go to bed early.
The TV came on, his head rested on the arm of the couch, and he was out.
A snow-covered field. He found himself standing at the edge of a frozen woodline, looking up at a lonely cabin set on a hill, the light shining from the window warming him even from so far away. This was it.
This was it!
He moved faster than his feet could touch the ground, fumbling and scrabbling in the snow that failed to sting his skin, making his way towards that warmth in a frantic rush for the front door. It was locked. Locked! He roared soundlessly as he pulled on the handle, then turned to look at that window. It was right there, just inside! Even just a look for now, just to see it, just to feel that warmth on his skin again! He places his face to that unyielding glass, eyes wide, looking into the blazing sun before him.
He was sitting in a cubicle. Janice was talking about PTO. The green-haired secretary was smiling. People were laughing at the break room.
He turns to himself, and it all disappears. The cubicle, the laughter, the cabin, the snow.
“What makes you happy?”
He had nothing to say as the lights went out.
He bolted up from his seat, the credits rolling on the screen as that knock came again. His food was here, and judging by the heavy knocking had been here for a bit. After stumbling to the front door and a minute of apologies, he closed the door and returned to that empty apartment and seven years of searching.
What makes you happy?
He bit into his burger and couldn’t dream of an answer.
|# ? May 10, 2021 02:41|
Andromeda, once 2.5 million light years distant
If I could give you these stars...
It was winter when you told me to go.
It always feels like winter out here. I can feel the chill on the windows, at the endless expanse of stars and nebulas and planets. It is unbearably cold out there. A mere second, and I would freeze to death.
We used to sit cuddled underneath the stars, your hand in mine, and you pointed out constellations. You dragged me out to see Mars one evening even though we could’ve just flown there. You said it was different, seeing it from Earth. You said it made you feel like the people in the past, that you wondered about what was there. I said that there was a colony, and it wasn’t really anything special, basically just a suburb. You said, shut up, and asked if I believed in aliens.
My colleagues bet if we would see aliens. For my money, I think there are some. The universe is too vast for us to be the only living things. However, I hope we don’t see anything. Not because it wouldn’t be amazing, but because you would’ve had so many questions for them.
“If you had the chance,” you asked, “the chance to do anything in the world, what would it be?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “That’s a big question.”
This was the day you asked me to leave. We were camping, like we did too many times. In Death Valley. You loved it there. The stars were so bright, and if you went far enough out, it was like people didn’t exist. It was so flat, so it was easy to just find somewhere to lie down and stare at the sky.
“I’d want to live forever,” you said. You stood over the fire. We weren’t supposed to have one, but we didn’t care.
“That kinda seems like cheating,” I said.
You laughed then dragged your camping chair next to mine.
“I guess, but it’s because I want to go out there. I want to see it all.”
This is why I’m at the window. Stars do start to blend together. We analyze each planet we pass by, some of them gas giants and some of them like Earth and some of them like horrible inhospitable hell holes like Venus. I get the reports, and they tell me about the chemical composition and the likelihood of them being hospitable for humans and there is so much to know, but I don’t have the mind for it. All the information falls through me. None of it matters. We are here to just see, observe, and give the reports to the people who know what to do with them.
But still, I sit and watch and try to soak in the universe. If you were here, this is what you would do. You would probably point at a planet and say, what if we landed there? What would we see?
I’d say, we can’t land. That’s against our orders.
And you’d say, you’re so boring. Just imagine, for once.
And I’d say, we would see things we’d never see before. We would sit on an empty planet, and I would grab the blanket we used to camp in, and I would wrap us together in it, and we would make new constellations.
And you’d say, that’s a lot better of an answer.
“We don’t get what we want,” I said back then. “And I don’t think I’d like to live forever.”
“Yeah, maybe it’d get boring,” you said.
“Nah, I think you’d like it. Just, not for me.”
Then we sat in silence. You got close to me, and we stared at the stars. Somewhere out where we were looking was where I am now. I’m in that tangle of darkness now. I wonder if you’re down there, looking for me. Of course, you’re not gonna be able to see me. Not for a few million years.
In the desert you said, “You should go.”
I remember the way you looked at me when you said it. You were smiling, but it was forced. You clasped onto my wrist hard to make your words have weight. You were shaking.
“You have the chance to do something nobody’s ever done before. You have the chance to see things people have only dreamed of seeing. You have to. You have to.”
I was chosen as a candidate for the mission. It was a recon mission, after all, so intelligence wasn’t important. Nor curiosity. I was just a healthy man, good at taking orders, and knew enough about space to not do anything stupid. And I applied, because of you. You were a small guy, and I loved that about you, but your enthusiasm wasn’t enough to overcome your asthma.
“If I go, I’ll never see you again.” The physics of it were complicated, but I got the gist. To travel to the Andromeda system in a reasonable amount of time, we would have to travel so fast that we’d basically slow down time. We’d be gone for what felt like a few years, but on Earth, we’d be gone for a century at least.
“I know,” you said, but you didn’t look away from me. You grabbed tighter and said, “You have to go.”
“If it was you, would you go?”
That is one of my regrets. I shouldn’t have said that. It was hard enough for you to say that. It is too easy now to think about the mistakes I made. The darkness of the universe is so empty that it can only be filled with thoughts. I wish I could say I’m sorry.
You looked away when I said that. I touched your shoulder, and you said, “I don’t know. Maybe. I really don’t know. But it’s not about me. This is you. And you should go.”
“If it was you, what do you think I would’ve said?”
“You would’ve wanted me to go,” you said. No hesitation. That still makes me smile. I’m glad you knew me well enough to say that.
“This is your dream,” I said. I looked up at the night sky. Back then, space seemed more full. The sparkling stars felt closer than ever before. That there was a chance to land among them. But that’s not the case. I still look outside this spaceship and I see the twinkle of tiny stars, just like when I was back home.
“It’s not just about me,” you said. “It’s about doing something that matters. Or like, having a legacy or something. It’s not like we can have kids anyways.”
“I don’t want kids,” I said. We talked about adopting, and those discussions feel so far away. Feel like wasted words. I wish I could waste words with you again.
“I know,” you said, “but I don’t think that’s quite it either. It’s that you have a chance to do something incredible and that chance might never come again. So you should go. You have to.”
You were right. So I grabbed you and pulled you in tight and I kissed you and I said I would. You cuddled in close to me, and we let the stars do their endless combustion.
When I look through these windows, at the countless stars and the drifting moons and the twisting nebulas, I know it should be you here. When you asked me if I could have anything, I didn’t have an answer. I think about that question every day now.
If I could have anything, it would be so that you could see what this galaxy looks like. When we found a planet covered in ice, I could only imagine your enthusiasm. You told me how excited you were when you found a planet a few light years outside our solar system with just a chunk of ice. God, if you were here, you probably could’ve made the captain drift by that planet.
If I could give you these stars, I would. The reason I look out the window every chance that I get is because of you. I’m here because of you. This is for you, I tell myself this every day. And there is a chance that maybe the scientists did their math wrong. Maybe, when this mission is over, when we get back home, you’ll still be alive. And if you are, I will tell you about the world outside our own. About the limitless dark and the endless stars and tell you how wonderful they are. I know you’ll smile, even if I hate this galaxy now. I know you will laugh and cry and hold me.
And even if you’re gone, I will continue to hold these stars in my heart. This is for you. You wanted to see as much as you could. You didn’t get the chance, but I did. I will see as much as I can.
If I could give you these stars, I would. To pay back for the stars you have given me.
|# ? May 10, 2021 03:44|
How To Navigate The Remains of Ross-248-b
If you must go there’s things I have to tell you. Things I held back. I went out there so you could have a better life, not so you could follow me in! You’re right, I’m shouting, I’m sorry. But look. Whatever you decide - just remember that I love you, and that we’ll always have those weekends at the Transport Museum.
1 - The Vanguard Beacon
Most fragments of the planet’s core still burn hot, each with an EM signature that betrays its unique mix of elements. I’m told they’re dimmer nowadays. By the time they enter our Solar System, twenty years from now, they’ll all be dimmer still. But there are no other lights to steer by.
This is where you’ll learn if you chose your captain well. Good ones flip and burn, match velocities, and make new maps. If they don’t, you’re lost - and it’s too late to do anything about it. So avoid the boastful and the superstitious. There’s no place for pride in the Remains and, no matter what anyone tells you, deep space is nothing like the sea.
2 - The Steam Train
Nobody would dream of looting the Steam Train. Every new crew is brought to look upon it in its high Vanguard orbit before going any deeper. Finally they understand all the secrecy; the interview questions about family mental illness, the clipped and empty words of ship’s officers when asked questions, the way veterans widen their eyes at some innocuous remark and then burst out laughing. When they gather you on the viewing deck, you must act like you’ve never seen it before.
The Steam Train is yellow. It is a Great Western Railway 6800 Grange Class 4-6-0 locomotive, 1962. It is tumbling through space at half the speed of light. It orbits a cooling fragment of a shattered world. It’s yellow. When I came home from my tour - the first one, before we had you - I tried looking up the model number. Those records are missing. But there are only so many of that class left on Earth. Do you remember?
Other than a little peeling paint, the destruction of the world it stood on seems to have done the Steam Train no harm. Sometimes, when solar winds blow from deeper in, it is just enough to turn the wheels.
3 - The Sealed Island
It’s fine to be worried. Most fresh crews are deeply affected by the sight of the Steam Train. If yours aren’t, then worry. Theories should be spreading from bunk to bunk and dorm to dorm. Perhaps it means that all species walk the same technological path and that nothing is really new; it could be some kind of time portal; maybe it’s a sick joke by the higher-ups.
All of these will stop at the Sealed Island.
The people of Ross-248-b had some warning. Some did. The clean faultlines on the stone, the glass dome that encases the entire island, the reservoirs of fuel deep enough to sustain a thousand tours... A sliver of ocean churns around the rock’s edge like a storm in a teacup.
The potential for treasure sends away team after away team into echoing underground halls, rooting through abandoned bedrooms and rusting engine blocks. Their searches yield strange fruits: the complete works of unknown musicians, maps of strange systems, sixteen tons of canned mince. It was still good.
But anyone who wants to survive the Remains should be able to eyeball the maths. That mass, that fuel? Barely enough for a course correction. This is why I’m giving you my old atlas. You won’t listen to me, but if you peer down at the silent village nestled between mountains and carefully study the contours, you’ll be unable to deny it: this empty bottle in the ocean is the island of St Helena, once a dot in the mid-Atlantic, every crest and ridge the same as home’s.
4 - The Leeward Beacon
This is the edge of the Remains; there is nothing else. Swing around it and use its mass to slingshot you homeward. If your captain plans to push on, mutiny. Anyone who has gone beyond will understand why.
The Leeward is almost completely dark. In between scans the veterans will tell each other all sorts of stories about differential temperature fluctuation and relativistic time dilation effects in thick empty voices, like when you say a word too many times and you lose its meaning. No-one will check the rock’s EM signature, or ask its age- but what’s really important is that this is where you must stop: this is where you have to turn around and
And - fine. Have it your way.
5 - The Steam Train
Do you remember when you were six and we went to the Transport Museum every week for a year? I tried getting you into dinosaurs, but you loved trains and you hated listening. There was this one train in the main hall. You know the one. I think your mum still keeps that one picture of us inside it, you hanging out the cab and me holding on to it and you. I’m sorry I stopped coming after that. But I had seen what orbits the Leeward Beacon, and could only think about the trains falling into the sky, crashing through the glass ceiling and disappearing from sight.
This is why you have to turn back. Why you shouldn’t go at all. Not because it’s dangerous: because that’s it. Nothing but cooling rocks, dead islands and steam trains stretching back forever, and there is no mark you can leave on the Remains that you won’t eventually stumble onto again, years from where you made it.
I’m sorry for the man I’ve been - the one I will be. But you don’t have to prove yourself to me or to anyone. You don’t have to go out there and it’s just - whatever you decide, I understand. If you need to see it to believe, I understand. I did. I will again.
So if this is the last time we talk - I love you now, and everywhere before and since. But if I were you, and I listened to the advice of my old man - I’d fly a ship forward into the future, staying ahead of the Beacons and the islands and the goddamn steam trains and all the Remains of all the Earths that will soon be headed for a world like ours, elsewhere and identical.
|# ? May 10, 2021 05:37|
Keep Sailing South
"Come here, Yehab. We might be the first from Aksum to look upon these lands."
Captain Kabur hears me approaching and smiles at me. Before us lies luxuriant forests, seemingly untouched by humans. I take in the landscape for a minute before making my report.
"I checked the food and water reserves, we still have three weeks. We can still go on, but we'll have to start thinking about the way back."
Kabur nods and turns toward the coast. Silence settles in for a long moment.
"Right." he says, "Start sending some of the crew to forage at sunrise. Maybe they'll find something we can use as evidence."
I nod and leave him with his reverie. This will add some more work for the crew, but they're good men, and I feel like they trust me enough to accept this order. We've left the coasts of the kingdom for some time now. Where most ships sailed east towards Persia and India, we went south and we're now entering unknown waters.
I've heard from the captain that it's his first travel out of the red sea, and that he wants to prove to his family, and himself, that he's fit to be a merchant. In my opinion, he's a good lad for a noble.
As for me, I've been promised a plot of land if I help him succeed. I know the language of traders and many more things that will help us travel safe and return home.
Still, I hope we find whatever he's looking for sooner rather than later. No ship from Aksum ever came back from such a journey. There must be a reason why.
"One of the teams isn't back yet, we can't leave."
This time around, Kabur is looking at the coast intently and pacing around the bow. We're a crew of twelve, and even three of us missing is gonna make the travel harder for those that remain.
"drat them, we're not gonna make good progress today if we wait. Let the others take their rations, we'll leave if they're not here by that point."
As I relay the orders to the crew, I see the last team finally approaching in their small rowboat. They seem excited for some reason.
Kabur sees them and starts yelling at them, but they show him a little package made out of leaves.
"We've found something that's never been seen in the Kingdom, Captain!"
As they climb into the ship, the crew gathers around them, and the package is given to the captain. His hands are shaking as he opens it, revealing colorful berries, the kind we've indeed never seen before. Kabur stares at them for a moment, then throws them overboard.
"Do you think I'm gonna settle for some berries? We're the first to get this far south, so I want something unique to bring back home, not some stuff that'll spoil on the way back! You deserve punishment for wasting my time and being late. We're leaving now, and you're skipping this meal."
And then he starts coughing and walks to the ship's bow. We all look at each other in shock. This is the first time we've seen the captain that angry. I still have to tell him that we're getting low on food, even with the forage teams. I know he's gonna shrug it off in the end and tell me to keep going south, but I'm not looking forward to this moment.
At last, we've found something interesting. There is a fishing hamlet on the coast, and the inhabitants do not speak neither our language nor Greek. They might speak old Egyptian, but even I don't know that dialect.
They showed us strange idols made out of ivory and green stones and I've managed to buy one with a bit of gold, using signs to get myself understood. I feel like they liked the way our coins are minted somehow, because they had some gold trinkets already. They also had some primitive tools and weapons made of some kind of metal. We tried to buy some of their food, but they weren't willing to sell the meager reserves they had.
On the way back, our hope that this we'll be able to go home is visible. The tired and famished crew is rowing with renewed energy. Kabur should've been here, but he's been weakened by some kind of affliction. I can see he's also skipping meals to save food.
When I show him the idols, all the crew is here, holding their collective breath. He looks at the statuette, and something glimmers in his eyes.
"Well done. You said those people spoke an unknown language?"
"All I can say is, that's not Ge'ez or Greek."
He thinks for a while, then nods.
"Very well. Try to convince one of them to come with us. By force if necessary."
Silence falls. We all look at each other. I don't want to ask but I have to.
"Isn't it obvious? I want to bring back home someone that'll describe how life is that far south. How they build, trade, gather food. What they trade and with whom. I'm sure we'll find someone in Aksum that'll know their language. We might've found a new trade route!"
His rant is interrupted by a coughing fit. I'm in disbelief. I don't know how we will convince anyone to come with us with the language barrier. As for the other solution, I don't like it. I don’t want to be part of an abduction. Plus, we barely have enough food as is and we're all tired by this long journey. I can hear some crew members starting to complain behind me.
Anyhow I have to do something. Before realizing what I'm doing, I hear my own voice.
"We're going home, Captain."
He stares at me. I guess he didn't expect the mousy scholar to talk back to him.
"Yes, we're going home. Once we have one of these locals on board."
"That's not gonna happen. We don't have a day to spare or the food for another person. They weren't willing to trade for food, so I doubt there's any forage to be had here. We have to turn back now to even have a chance to survive."
He's looking daggers at me now, but I keep my head high. I signal the crew to start sailing and they leave us alone at the stern.
"Traitor. You can be sure that this will reach my father's ears."
"Maybe, but we'll all be alive. I'll leave him to be the judge of how he'll punish me for this. In the meantime, you need to eat. If you die on the way back, this trip will end up being for nothing."
I leave Kabur as he's still fuming. He might thank me later, but for now I should let him be. I'm taking a gamble on his father's forgiveness, but I don't have the heart to ask the crew to throw the lad overboard. Per my calculations, we should reach Mosylon as we run out of food. As the ship turns, I walk to the bow, my eyes on the horizon. We're going north. Back home.
|# ? May 10, 2021 06:06|
Guy gazed at the future of particle physics, which took the form of a complex equation that filled his computer screen. He should be excited: in a few minutes, the Large Hadron Collider would fire at its highest energy yet, generating the data that would confirm or refute his theories on the electron's supersymmetric partner. But the summer heat, the drone of the inadequate air conditioner, and the three-hour coding session made him tired. He should just go home, yet it felt weird not being here for this, the culmination of five years of work. As a compromise, he logged on to the internal dashboard, watching the numbers and graphs shift as the control room brought the accelerator to life. The effect was hypnotic and Guy dozed off.
It didn't last. His chair dropped into freefall, jolting him awake, but he wasn't moving. Instead, the office stretched away from him like an image on silly putty. He flailed, trying to reach his phone, and his hand distorted in the same way. He snatched it back and curled up in his chair, fighting for breath. The air itself was flying away from him. It was entirely silent except for the blood rushing in his ears.
As suddenly as it started, it stopped. It appeared as if nothing had happened: there was the same desk, the same chair … but wasn't the cushion blue, not red? This discrepancy barely registered before a voice yelled from the doorway.
"What the gently caress?!"
He turned and saw himself. Well, a cool version of himself. This Guy wore jeans instead of khakis, held a mug of coffee instead of herbal tea, and had dreadlocks instead of closely clipped hair. Guy felt an atomic-level aversion to his doppelganger, as if they were two magnets repelling each other. By the look on the other Guy's face, the feeling was mutual.
"Wh- what happened?" he said. He had a splitting headache and his stomach was still churning from the event.
"Nothing. I left to get a coffee and came back to you in my seat. Who the hell are you?"
"I'm Guy, I'm a physicist at CERN."
"Yeah? So am I." The other Guy eyed him. "Where’d you come from?"
"Here. I was dozing at my desk, this desk, then everything went weird and stretchy. Maybe I'm just dreaming?"
Guy punched him in the nose.
"Ow! What the hell, man?"
"Would a dream do that? No, this is real." He paused, thinking, then asked, "Does CERN have a Schwarzschild limiter?"
His double was crazy. "A what? No, don't think so."
"Ah, it’s like my research! I bet you went through a wormhole into our universe. Our CERN was smart enough to prevent mini-wormholes from forming at high energy, but yours didn't."
Definitely crazy. Guy reached for another explanation but a ceiling tile suddenly gave way, crashing down beside him.
"drat old office," they both said in sync.
"Okay smarty pants, then what do we do? How can I get back to my own universe?" Guy's head was swimming.
"Pull yourself together, Guy Prime. That's what I'm gonna call you. Obviously we have to recreate the conditions and hope you don't get sucked into another universe entirely. I'll go talk to the controllers about shutting off the Schwarzschild limiter, you stay here. Being around you is giving me a headache."
Guy, or rather Guy Prime, was too disoriented to protest and so focused on not vomiting. He hoped the crazy Guy was right. Without warning, the chair collapsed underneath him and he yelled as a splinter stabbed his leg. A red-headed woman poked her head in the door.
"You okay? I heard a crash … oh!" She hesitated. "You're not Guy?"
Guy Prime thought as quickly as he could. He couldn't tell her the truth and risk delays as she and other scientists investigated him. He sensed, as he fought off another dizzy spell, that he couldn't survive long in this universe.
"I'm his twin brother, uh, Robert," he said, using his middle name.
"I'm Gemma. We need to get the nurse, that's a lot of blood." She hollered into the hallway as he tried not to pass out.
"They're on their way," she said. "Strange that Guy never mentioned his twin, you aren't close?"
*Nope," he croaked.
He was saved from further questioning by a man appearing in the doorway. "Smell that? There's a gas leak, we need to evacuate."
"Someone's got it out for you, Guy," Gemma said.
"This universe does," he said without thinking. Gemma looked at him strangely as she and the man hauled him up. The elevation change was too much and he blacked out.
Guy hurried through the labyrinthine hallways, eager to put as much distance between him and Guy Prime as possible. From his theoretical work on parallel universes, he suspected that two copies of a person couldn't occupy the same universe for long. Conservation of matter and all that. He had to get rid of his doppelganger before he found out what happens if that rule is violated. Unfortunately, that involved convincing the engineers to override a key safety system.
"Hi guys," he said, projecting confidence as he entered the control room. "I need the next run to test my hypothesis on wormhole formation, so I need the Schwarzschild limiter deactivated."
"Are you serious?" the head controller said. "We can't just override that system. It needs authorization from the director at the very least."
"Look, this is an urgent request from the director herself. It's important work and we'd like to present the results at the conference next month."
"You should have thought of it a few months ago, then."
"I didn't know it was possible a month before!" Desperation rose in him … oh no, that was his lunch. He vomited on the head controller's shoes. Whatever was afflicting Guy Prime was contagious.
"What is going on? For real," the head controller said, looking down in disgust.
Guy tried the truth. "A copy of myself from another universe showed up in my office through a wormhole. We need to send him back before his presence kills me or, more likely, him."
The engineers stared in disbelief. "Okay. Have a sit down here," the head controller said gently. "We'll deal with it, don't worry." Behind him, another engineer was dialing security.
"I can prove it!" he said. "If the director says so, will you turn off the device?"
"Thanks," Guy said as he bolted out the door.
Luckily, the director's office wasn't far away. Guy charged straight in. "Madame Director! I need to tell you something." He poured out the whole story, including his strange repulsion and Guy Prime's illness. The director listened patiently.
"If what you say is true, then this is a remarkable opportunity to study the fundamental differences between universes. But if you're wasting my time, you're fired."
It wasn't a no. Before he could thank her, the fire alarm went off.
Guy Prime awoke lying in grass, the sun roasting his face. He sat up slowly, then gasped as he saw the building engulfed in flames.
“The gas leak got out of control,” Gemma said from beside him. “Glad to see you’re back.”
Guy Prime wasn’t. He leaned over and puked up what looked like blood. “Right, the nurse,” Gemma said, and disappeared.
He laid back and waited for death, but Guy found him first. Guy Prime retched again, the presence of his doppelganger causing pressure to build in his head.
High-heeled shoes entered his vision. "Remarkable, you are clearly the same person. Not a long-lost twin?"
"No, you can call my mom to check," Guy said. "Now, can we disable the Schwarzschild limiter?"
"I think we ought to conduct more tests, DNA analysis to start." The director's phone rang, cutting off Guy's objections, and she answered. Even from Guy Prime's position, he could tell it was bad news.
"Apparently there is a meteor on trajectory to hit this area," the director said slowly, as if she couldn't believe it. "We have an hour to evacuate everyone."
"Wow, the universe really does want him dead." Gemma had reappeared with the nurse, who efficiently bandaged Guy Prime's leg.
"Let me stay behind and run the accelerator without the limiter," Guy urged. "We've got to send him back."
The director nodded, distracted by issuing evacuation orders. "What's the harm now?"
Guy immediately called the control room, issuing instructions and getting the director to grunt her assent into the phone. Finally, he asked Guy Prime for the energy settings. Guy Prime dug deep into his sore brain, recalling the numbers on the dashboard back in his universe. He told Guy, who relayed them to the team.
Then, it was time. Before leaving for the buses that had gathered for the evacuation, Gemma squeezed Guy Prime's shoulder and said, "Good luck." The control room engineers waved as they boarded the buses as well. Then the Guys were alone. Below them, the accelerator started.
"Well," Guy said, for the first time lost for words.
"Can you get me as close to the office as possible?" Guy Prime said. Guy nodded and he winced as his double grabbed him, half dragging and half carrying him to the side of the burnt out building.
"How does the Schwarzschild limiter work?" Guy Prime asked. "No offense, but I never want to come back here."
Guy told him as much as he could remember through his worsening headache.
"Thanks, I think I get the idea. You'd better go now, don't want you coming through the wormhole as well."
All his atoms screamed to get away from Guy Prime, but Guy still hesitated.
"Go on. Worst case scenario, I'm crushed by a meteor and all your problems go away." Guy Prime tried to smile reassuringly.
Guy had to respect his courage. "Godspeed," he said and retreated over the field towards his car. The grounds were eerily silent. Though he meant to not look back, an strange instinct told him to turn around. He gave into it just in time to see Guy Prime blink out of existence. Instantly his headache eased and the universe exhaled with him.
After another rollicking ride through the wormhole, Guy Prime ended up in a heap outside the office building. He breathed in, gulping in the sweet air of his universe. His body had never felt better and he laughed: it had worked! A passing scientist gave him a weird look but he didn’t care. Guy Prime, now just Guy, rushed back inside to his laptop and began typing up his notes on the Schwarzschild limiter, wondering if it was too late to change his research to wormhole prevention. He’d already done the test, now to work on the theory.
|# ? May 10, 2021 06:39|
The First Four Frontiers
1. The Obelisk
2144 CE, Mars
It was deep in the chill Martian night that the excavation team dug out the top portion of the Olympic Obelisk. Even in mere starlight something crackled along the etchings in its surface.
Mark Rodney, the American, was the loud voice of caution. "We should bury it, at least until we know what's causing that. The imaging we've gotten today will keep us busy for weeks, and by then we'll have a better idea if it's safe to proceed."
It was not a popular view. The Brazilian, Erica Lais spoke for the majority. "This is the greatest moment in human history, our first interaction with technology not our own. We do not shirk from danger."
There was argument deep into the night, even with some input from the World Climate Council through laser transmission. Erica's side prevailed. The excavation continued, with Martian dirt shoveled out around the Obelisk and brushed away from its dark crystalline surface with gentle puffs of pressurized nitrogen gas.
At dawn, when the first rays of the sun lit the Obelisk, the electrical sparking ceased and the entire thing started to glow from within. It shook, repelling the packed Martian dust from it, forming a hole around the portion that had still been buried. All of this was captured on a dozen camera streams, transmitted to the Phobos relay and on to Earth, an image every five seconds from each angle, all while the scientists watched and narrated for their own records.
At 7:33 Greenwich Mean Time, the Obelisk discharged its stored energy. Approximately one percent of that energy spread laterally, superheating the thin Martian air and creating an explosive shockwave that instantly vaporized Xenology Camp One and all within. The majority of the energy formed a tight beam that raced toward the sun. When it arrived, it was answered with seven outward beams of energy, each burning on for about a minute, each headed toward a point orbiting one of the major planets. And as the beams arrived, they opened wormholes, tears in space-time putting vastly distant places into artificial proximity. Seven new frontiers had opened in the near and far sky.
2. At Home Among the Dead
2150 CE, Earth->Acheron Alpha
Footfalls seemed louder on Acheron to Doctor Nyala Kolfe than they ever had on Earth. Perhaps it was just the silence of a world nearly devoid of life. Or perhaps they had built the floors here that way, back when the mummified alien remains that filled the lab had been alive. Either way, she heard them long before she could see anyone coming, and recognized Director Eli Blanc's distinctive gait as well. "Director," she said without looking up as he entered the room.
"Doctor," he said, nodding.
"What brings you to these tombs?" she said.
"The future," he said.
"You have the wrong person, then. Here we have the past, as you can see." She gestured toward the remains, preserved by the absence of decay or predators. The great shelled ones that appeared to be the majority, the shorter ones with wiry fur, the tall and crystal-studded ones, the single exception to bipedalism, the ones with the single stalk and mass of tiny tentacle-legs to provide motion.
"One in the same, for the moment," said the director. "Two things: we, you and me and the rest of the expedition, we are all going to be fantastically rich. And we will likely never set foot on Earth again."
"Never?" said Nyala.
"Perhaps if we live extremely long lives, and are still fit for acceleration at the end of them. Nobody is proposing a quarantine shorter than fifty years."
She looked down, pretending to review notes. "Then the Radical Preservationists are out of the coalition?"
"And the full charter was approved. Two charters in fact; they've approved a parallel project on Beta." Acheron Beta was the other tombworld in the system. Fewer ruined cities and less residual oxygen than the world directly below the Earthbound wormhole.
"Do you think our hosts would approve?" asked Dr. Kolfe, gesturing toward the various remains.
"If I were them I would," he said. "I'd want revenge, first."
"It might have been natural causes," she said. "Cosmic ray burst, something like that."
"It might," he said. "But given what we saw beyond the Mars hole that would be a mighty big coincidence. And nobody's been through the other gates to reclaim the world, or even, well." He looked again at the alien dead. "Do we know what they did, culturally? I'd want to be properly buried, or cremated probably."
"I'd hope I would be fine to let my body serve science," she said. "But I don't know. We haven't found recent gravesites, not so far."
"And I wouldn't want the planet to stay dead without me. If the dolphins or crows couldn't inherit I'd at least want someone living there. Someone who might meet the enemy, might get working on that revenge."
3. Big Dumb Object
2151 CE, Mars->Asgard Geostationary Orbit
The surfaces inside the Object were annoyingly nonmagnetic, which always made navigating inside it a challenge. No gravity, no magnetics, so just thrusters and inertia, and there were so many holes in the thing that there was always a danger of winding up outside and in need of rescue. Ashad carefully propelled himself into the depths.
There had been war, here. A long time ago. Violence on an unimaginable scale. The Object was the size of a small moon, hollowed out. The volume inside was huge, and subdivided into hundreds of levels. It has also been rendered uninhabitable, some weapon had cut holes through the entire thing. And it has been the luckiest of these objects. Two others were ripped to strange metallic shards,a resource to be collected and a hazard to navigation at once. The planet below had had it worse. Destroyed orbital tethers formed a belt of destruction around its equator, and deep gashes into the crust exposed magma in permanent supervolcanoes. The air was sulfurous, acidic, and hot. Asgard Beta, in a slightly closer orbit, was much the same.
Ashad swung around a corner and found himself facing a door. Still sealed shut. He consulted his map with his heads-up computer. The area behind this door could theoretically be vast. None of the probed exterior holes connected to that area.
"I've found something," he said into his radio. "I need backup, and a portable seal."
He had just enough time to get impatient before Sonia arrived with the seal. They set it up at the narrow of the hallway, about a meter in front of the new door and pressed the button. Pressurized nitrogen inflated the thick plastic bags and the seal formed a tight fit with the passage edges. Then Ashad worked the door. He knew where to find the emergency bolts that kept these doors tightly shut without power, how to reveal the manual cranks that would let them open. It was always an uncomfortable grip. The ones who built this had hands of some kind, but not that close to his. He gave a turn, then another with the crank loosened. The door hissed. He let go. The crank spun itself the rest of the way, accelerating. Ashad stepped back and gripped the side fixtures.
A blast of air, or of some gas mixture at least, shoved him rudely as the door opened. The seal flexed but held. Ashad started recording, started narrating. "Instruments are reading one point one seven atmospheres, which is consistent with our estimates of the pre-disaster baseline on Asgard Alpha. This section may have survived the attack."
"Put holes in this station and it's an attack. Put holes in the planet and you call it a disaster," said Sonia.
"Temperatures are near-freezing, and oxygen levels minimal," continued Ashad. "Inconsistent with biological survival. Mechanical remnants with independent power sources are possible but unlikely.
Sonia swung the beam of her flashlight attachment around to something she saw peripherally. "Here," she said.
The far wall of this chamber, which now seemed small and doorless. Two skeletons, implying the shape of bipeds, every bone adorned with sharp spurs, still embracing each other, leaning against the wall. And a third, huddling alone in the corner.
No great technological artifacts to study today, but the most intact remains they'd found so far. With a great deal of luck there might even be sequencable DNA inside, but even without it they'll learn plenty gross anatomy. Ashad looked at the fingerbones, the fine manipulator structural tissue, to press back the tendency to anthropomorphize. He could see those bones getting grip and leverage on those cranks easily, in his head.
4. First Contact
2154 CE, Venus->Axu Shap
"Greetings, Ambassador Thane," said the alien. They were the first spoken words exchanged between Axu and Human, after more than a year of intense communication in mathematics and a constructed common language that was only written, only text. "Welcome to our realm."
"We thank you for your hospitality," said the Ambassador. There had been pictures, of course, sent by the Axu through relays near Venus and Axu Shap. They did not do the aliens justice. They were tall, spindly things, with great heavy legs and two pairs of arms, the lower ones powerful and the upper more delicate, and a head that rested necklessly on their high chests with an arrangement of features that struck him as being somehow upside down. He supposed that he would eventually get used to it. "I'm sure that we have much to learn from each other."
"It may be so. If prices can be met." Sherill Thane thought the expression might be a smile, and stored it away for later.
"Already I'm learning. The idea of trade is not unknown to you, I see."
"How could it be?" the alien said. "It has been generations since we have encountered another species. Many generations. Well beyond memory. But we understand the need for peace, for accomodations. And we know that barter is the way to accommodate with the least amount of trust."
"I hope to establish trust," said the Ambassador. The ship was moving, accelerating just a bit more than one G. He felt heavy.
"As do I," said the alien. "But for now, fair barters are our order. We each have things that the other wants."
"And what is it that you want?"
"You get to the point, yes," said the alien. "Admirable. Passage. We want passage. Soon, in a lifetime or two, our fleet must fission and move on. We would pass through the gates in your system as the first step in a long journey."
"You are a canny negotiator, to seek information for no return. But I will answer you. Trust is important. We understand that we ask much, to put our ships, whose capabilities you cannot be certain of, so close to your home. We will need to make many gifts to earn that trust."
Ahead, on the front screen, which the alien said projected front-mounted cameras, he could start to see the ships, hundreds of them, maybe thousands, against the blue-green planet below.
"We seek the ancients," the alien said. "The gate builders. The mapmakers. And the tricksters. Each of those long past races had opportunity to hide, to block their homes off beyond closed gates. Our fleets travel until they find an unopened wormhole, then wait for it to open. Someday it will be the doorstep to the architects of the network, the ones who life-seeded the worlds."
The Ambassador stared at the fleet. Each ship had to be far larger than anything Earth had ever made. Smaller by far than the Asgard Object, but dwarfing nearly everything else. And they had the distinct appearance of being well armed. "You could just take it," he said. "Roll past any defense we offered."
"In theory," the alien said. "Perhaps. But then we would not be Axu Shap. We do not make war, not if we cannot barter or retreat."
"Do you know what happened to the other worlds we've seen?"
"Not specifically. We call it the Scourge, and know little else of it. And what we do know is not to be freely given. But on the subject of gifts. Your system was not as it should be. Some accident long ago wiped out life on the one you call Mars. You may have noticed each system should hold two worlds, seeded by the Builders or their devices. One where life can blossom to intellect, and one where it stays simple enough to be a colony in easy reach, where the Obelisk that will open the gates was buried. Fate has robbed you of a world. We do not care for planets. We have tended the one below as a garden, though. It is yours, freely given, with an ecology more healthy than any Scourge-wracked globe, perhaps even more than your recovered one. We give it freely, that you may learn our fleet is no threat, with the promise of the other in this system when we finally depart."
5. Sleight of Hand
2199 CE, Jupiter->Zerzura Beta
The Erica Lais was the first of its kind, a long-hauler, built for multi-year journeys through outer systems. The model would open the last three Solar frontiers, would double the number of secondary portals that could be explored, would allow missions deeper into the network than ever before. A wonder of scavenger materials and technology, drive schematics hard-bargained for from the Axu, and a train of potential colonists in stable biospheres. The first human ship with Axu crew, the twins Sessi and Cirri Lu. And Peter Nysky was its captain. He remembered the day they passed through the Jupiter wormhole, the cheer that went up through the entire crew.
The other side had been in the cold outer side of the Zerzura system. They had another long journey through normal space ahead of them
He remembered the day their telescopes first detected signs of intelligent life on Zerzura Beta, the spined short-legged centauroid creatures with what appeared to be pre-industrial technology. The colonists, now reduced to the crew of a potential observation post, were not as disappointed as they might have been.
And he remembered the disaster. Sessi was with the team. They were the best linguist on the ship, and Peter thought showing two species in cooperation would help smooth things over. And it seemed to be going well. They remembered being part of the Community, before the Scourge that they barely survived, as myth if not as history. It seemed to be going very well, right up until one of them pulled out a gun out of nowhere and shot Sessi right in between his upside-down eyes.
It could have been worse. It was a line actor, or so they said. The negotiations eventually continued, to Earth's advantage.
Peter remembered having to inform Cirri. He still thinks they already knew. Axu emotions are hard to read, though. Cirri insisted on an immediate cremation, and Peter agreed on the spot. He loaded the Axu into the furnace and flipped the switch.
And Peter remembered the autopsy. Just him and Doctor Ng. Cutting into Axu flesh for the first time, and what they found there. The artificiality of it all. Nothing outside that head was proper biology, none of it had any DNA at all. An artificial body. The head was real, and its DNA was different than anything else on any planet seen so far. Primal. Older.
Mostly, though, Peter remembered the syringe. A large air bubble into Doctor Ng's neck, just after the real cremation. Five years to home. He had to hope he could keep the secret, keep up his poker face for the rest of the trip, look Cirri in those damned eyes. He couldn't risk a second person knowing.
Peter watched the empty space ahead of him, imagining the purple ringed gas giant around which the wormhole home slowly orbited.
|# ? May 10, 2021 06:40|
Submissions are closed.
Interprompt: Necromancer labor shortage
|# ? May 10, 2021 10:17|
Wow, I have now managed to sign up for 4 prompts and not submit for any of them (once due to forgetting, twice due to not finishing and this time I was impeded by real life)
That will leave me tied for worst failure at 400% on the thunderdome site, which I also just realized existed and already has statistically calculated what a failure I am
I will make sure to post for the interprompt. I have never managed to participate before, are there word count limits to the interprompts?
|# ? May 10, 2021 17:54|
1) no if not given
Wow, I have now managed to sign up for 4 prompts and not submit for any of them (once due to forgetting, twice due to not finishing and this time I was impeded by real life)
2) just post, don't post about posting
3) finish your two unfinished stories. Redemptions are honorable
|# ? May 10, 2021 18:33|
The birth of a necromancer is never wholly divorced from prophecy.
So it was for the boy Ξάνθος: an arduous pregnancy from which his mother emerged frail and easily taken by illness, and her womb never again quickened, as if the child took more than his lot on his way into the world. He was born with his eyes open and met the gaze of his father, and even as an infant his presence became unnerving, for he never cried. From an early age he was taken by what would become his craft, studying death first in plants and insects and later proving by induction its truth in small animals, though it took only one beating for him to learn that his predilections were not shared by others. He often roamed the forest despite the warnings of his elders and the good sense any child should have to fear the woods, and they did not stop him though he was far too young to trust alone among the trees; yet he always returned, and perhaps they let him go because they hoped he would not.
The guild sought for him during his eighth year.
The father of Ξάνθος often left at dawn to hunt elk. It was his custom to enter the forest a certain way, through a path at the top of a hill, and one morning met he met a pair of travelers at the edge of the forest where they waited beneath the moss-eaten branch of a beech tree. A man had hung from the same branch for the crime of stealing a goat the year before and his moldering bones lay in a pile there, the rotten rope dangling between the emissaries of the necromancers. There were two of them, one clad in beautiful armor and another in the ornate robes of some office, their faces covered by paper screens; on one was scrawled the character prince, on the other scholar, in a language the boy's father did not know. Indeed, though he had heard stories of sorcerers that mastered death, their empire was still a distant rumor in those lands, and so it often was, for though their dominion reached ever farther and knowledge of their dread power became ever greater a legend in the world, the prophecies by which necromancers were chosen did not concern themselves with the boundaries of nations.
So he did not know the emissaries of the necromancers for who they were, nor that only the great are chosen to act as the messengers of the necromancers after death.
It is a fate reserved for heroes and peerless thinkers, for such dead have many privileges: among others, they retain the faculty of speech, and so with a silken tongue the scholar said, The boy is chosen. He will return with us, and later return here, when there is need for him, in a language that the boy's father did not know.
After a moment of polite repose, it then repeated its message in another language, cycling through tongue after foreign tongue at length until eventually it made itself understood. Yet long before it found the language of his people, the father of Ξάνθος understood that their presence was a terrible omen and that he faced an abomination, for in those lands death was still an ending: an ending which itself died, for he knew that the men he spoke to were dead, and even suspected in some way their relation to the legendary barrow kings of whom he had heard in tales and folklore.
Yet the father of Ξάνθος did not submit his child to the necromancers, for he did not know that prophecy leaves no breadth for argument, nor that the prince in beautiful armor had in life been a renowned warrior, struck down in battle by an equally heroic rival. When it became clear that these terrifying strangers would not leave without his son, he brandished his axe at them and is buried now beneath the beech tree, beside a man that stole a goat.
There was a time when death and sleep were siblings, and the afterlife was thought of as an eternal rest.
Men wore the skins of animals and brandished implements of stone when the gods withdrew from the world and left it to plummet through the endless void. In those antique days we shared creation with other folk, and our first writings are scribbles from their tutelage of our ancestors. Even then they were an ancient and endling race, numbering no more than a few. What few remained were extraordinarily old, existences too alien to be accurately described in our first clumsy attempts to capture concepts in language; indeed, perhaps abstraction itself was an art we learned from them in the first forays of our forefathers into the corpses of their cities, where the custodians of an extinguished people held their own funereal vigil. They emerged from deeper passages, to teach us in the otherwise sepulchral stillness of temples become tombs the secrets they had plundered from the gods and from death... and as knowledge is passed from father to son, we inherited the Art from others who had pursued it longer and to greater heights than we could ever imagine. Not a generation of their guidance passed before they withdrew into their labyrinths and never again emerged, though all men know the story of the settlement in the maze of Ἀνεμώρεια and its tragedy. This text shall not recount the tale, merely suggest that even the masters of death learned to respect certain mysteries of the world, and that save tragedy, our ancestors lived for an era in blissful peace after the vanishing of the friendly folk, even as the world around them became increasingly aberrant.
And even as that bedlam enveloped the land, our civilization began its golden age, for where other kingdoms suffered the perils of death gone awry and other terrors that followed the world as it fell ever farther from heaven, our knowledge preserved us, and time continued as it had, for a time. The other tribes of men knew not the secrets of death, and when they waged war upon us, they came upon an unassailable foe: for we sent not soldiers to war against them but corpses, and the dead do not easily die again. So people after people came under our yoke, and the air grew thick with the smoke of sacrifice, and the empire spread and after a time grew stagnant in its expansion. Still we flourished, for the dead tended our fields and the dead laid the stone and mortar of our cities, and in the social ecology of the inner kingdoms such is the niche of the necromancer, he who oversees that the dead not lie dormant but see to the needs of civilization: a fundamental role, as prestigious as any lord or philosopher, and each honed to be shepherd to their particular flock.
Indeed, it is tradition that a necromancer leave the land of their birth only once unless called upon, for the secret rituals of their apprenticeship. These are themselves a mystery, for the learning of no two necromancers is the same, only that they return to carry out their duty when death calls them back.
- Introduction of Αθανάσιος to the Ἀπολογία νεκρομαντεία
It was a year of plague, and the bodies lay in drifts as high as the leaves on the roads through the middle kingdoms. Cattle lay skeletal and hollow-eyed in untended pastures; rude markers and makeshift cairns bespoke mass grave. In such times, the underworld bears heavily upon the earth, and spirits and corpses become wont to stir and trouble the living, even when they have not been instructed to do so. So it was that the necromancer Ξάνθος thrice offered the services of his trade to places he passed through on his journey. A necromancer's price is always steep in lands that are not their own, but such was the need of the people.
The first time, in a village where the men had died from plague and only women and children remained, he resurrected their husbands and fathers so that they might tend the crops and reap their harvest. For this he drew life from the fields, and over the years the earth grew barren there; as a price for himself, he exacted seven years from the life of every child, and this he collected in the crystal hanging from his neck in the shape of an icosahedron, most ideal of geometries for the suspension of ethereal currents. At the second village, a cult worshipping the ancient god of death had arisen; for this it was fortunate that the necromancer journeyed with his retainers, a prince and a scholar. The scholar evoked great truths from the annals of necromantic philosophy, of the world's abandonment and the truth of undeath, and pled at length with the villagers that they abandon their heresy... but the lie of a restful death proved too sweet a promise for the scholar to wake them from their stupor. To convince them, he went to the cave where their holy men said they could find oblivion, deep beneath the sky, where the gods could not find their bodies. There the necromancer Ξάνθος spoke his own holy word and the dead stirred at his call and tore apart those who promised they would remain still. Then he instructed them to return to the inner kingdoms and trouble not the countryfolk, and for this he took only the fertility of every living animal in a radius of three thousand one hundred and sixty-seven cubits from the mouth of the cave, reasoning that this way the villagers need not seek the truth so long as their lie passed like a weed from the world and took no root.
The final time Ξάνθος offered his aid was the most troublesome. His journey eventually took him beyond the outermost reaches of the empire, and he travelled with ever greater urgency, for he came to understand that in the lands of his providence death had gone very far astray. He wondered if the burden placed upon him was not too heavy, if the destination of his quest was not too far... and never did he doubt himself more than when he heard of the hero from Φθίη who claimed to be a divine herald of the renewed agency of the gods in the world. He even discovered an emotion hitherto unknown to him, called fear: for the necromancer Αἴθρα was a sorceress of great renown, and the hero from Φθίη destroyed her with a sword he claimed was forged from an iron rib of the god of war. This time it was fortunate that he travelled with the warrior who had been a prince, for he issued the hero from Φθίη a challenge he could not reject: a trial by combat, as was the ancient way between warrior kings. In the ancient temple of the friendly folk that had been the sanctuary of Αἴθρα, they battled ferociously, and Ξάνθος realized that the hero from Φθίη might very well be what he claimed. They warred beautifully and at length, their blows resounding in a place of absolute stillness for hours and hours, and yet in time the dead prince gave ground and his armor was battered again and again. Again and again the prince suffered a killing blow, only to rise, no matter how horrifically maimed. The sword forged from the bones of a god exacted a terrible toll upon Ξάνθος: to resurrect the prince he drew not from his phylactery but from the very parish of the necromancer Αἴθρα, who had failed in her charge and could therefore not defend it regardless.
And so as the hero warred against the necromancer, the land around them died, and after a time the hero sensed that though their battle had carried them across many leagues, it had done so in silence. He realized he would not defeat the necromancer, that if he did he certainly could not hope to vanquish them all, and he realized also why the gods had left the world. As the revelation seized him he hesitated for a moment - and the prince did not miss his opportunity to end a loathsome task, for he had been honorably defeated many times already, and he struck the hero from Φθίη down without hesitation. Cautiously, in a moment of guile more befitting the living, the prince waited until the necromancer left the temple and collected the hero's sword, for its legend had not ended.
When at last Ξάνθος finished his journey where it had begun, his confidence in his quest was restored. He emerged from the primeval forest of his homeland and sheltered for a moment with his retainers beneath the enormous branch of an ancient beech tree. A handful of mounds near the tree's roots bespoke that here, the dead lay at rest.
And the necromancer smiled, for it meant he was needed.
Tosk fucked around with this message at 09:57 on May 11, 2021
|# ? May 11, 2021 02:03|
I haven't done any creative writing that I've actually finished for a few years, so I'm very rusty and very purple (I kind of always have been). I had the idea as soon as I read the prompt and after realizing that my flakiness was being chronicled (!) I realized I needed to churn it out.
Hope someone enjoys it, I enjoyed writing it! I didn't edit it at all so I'll go over it with fresh eyes in a few hours.
The random Greek thing just came to me after initially thinking about not giving the protagonist any name or using any references to locations, and then it seemed like it worked as a similar device so I rolled with it.
Tosk fucked around with this message at 02:10 on May 11, 2021
|# ? May 11, 2021 02:05|
The little bell attached to the door rang it’s little “deedle deedle dee” as Nildar the Bonesmith walked through the door of the Shogan’s Helping Hand, hoping to pick up some new farmhands. He was hoping to put another few rooms on his house, as his wife Kecilia the Dread had informed him the week previous that they were expecting their first little one. With a few extra hands to work the fields, Nildar would have some extra time to help out his wife and get a nursery built before the winter.
The chemical smell was nothing new to Nildar, and it brought back a lot of good memories for him. Stopping off at the store with his grampa as a child, and getting some candy from the zombie Shogan kept near the front as an advertisement of his wares. His parents had been a great necromancer team and had been drafted in one of the previous Dread Lord’s wars. Nildar spent a lot of time with his grandparents when he was a lad as a consequence.
“How goes it?” Shogan asked, stepping out of the back room, wiping his hands on a cloth. “How’s the missus?”
“Fine, fine,” Nildar replied. “She keeps craving pickles for some reason, but I hear things like that happen. Just trying to keep her happy for now. How’s the supply lately?”
“Well, that I’m none too happy about. Hope you weren’t looking for anything in particular, Archons of the Dread Lord stopped by just yesterday, grabbed most of what I had. Even the stuff that wasn’t so great for combat. Maybe this one is actually trying to fix some things, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
“Dread Lords, I swear. We been through five in the past seven years, and it’s always the same. Grabbing every usable corpse, never a thought to what the rest of us need.” Seeing Shogan’s expression, he quickly added “Not that I’m saying the Dread Lord’s work isn’t important, but he’s not gonna have any soldiers left if the rest of us can’t get anything done.”
“Well, be that as it may. What you looking for? I got some that didn’t get requisitioned. Got a few good skeleton’s I know you like working with, got a few of them new fangled zombies from the factory up in Capitol, and I know you don’t like ‘em but I do got a few of them small ones. Now, don’t go getting upset, I’m not the biggest fan of ‘em either, but sometimes they come in handy for a few people around town. I know the sewers wouldn’t be have as safe as they are without something that can sneak in and do some scouting, find those bastard heroes that keep coming by.”
“Definitely not the little ones, bad luck to have one of those with Kecilia as she is. Skeleton’s might do, what about those new-fangled ones? Those the ones I heard about that you can’t modify or fix yourself? I been using the same mending spells my grampa’s grampa used, they been good enough for them they’re good enough for me. No gaps whatsoever when you put an arm back on. “
“Yeah, those are the ones I got right now. I swear, those factory bastards up in Capitol convince a Dread Lord they’ll pay more taxes if they get the right to force everyone else to pay to fix up what’s already been paid for, and then we get a new Dread Lord and they just pretend like that wasn’t the deal all along. Then our taxes go up, and those bastards just keep swimming in money. Heard there was a guy up north tried to fight it, they got an Archon to run up there and now he’s working off the fine in one of the factories. Didn’t even give him the chance to explain himself, just BAM” and Shogan slapped his hand on the counter, “right off to the factory. Sad as hell.”
“Well, in that case gently caress ‘em. I ain’t paying for that. Let me see the skeletons, see if they can do what I need. Kecilia really wants that nursery, no way she’s gonna care if the Dread Lord is scooping up all the local bodies.”
Shogan marched out the skeletons, put them through their paces. Thankfully the current Dread Lord wasn’t a fan of skeleton’s in his armies, said they were too easy to break and made too much noise when they were marching. Dread Lords were always too busy looking for showy armies, they forgot the basics. Out here in the west of the Dread Empire showy was a lot less important than functional. Nildar had learned the proper spells and rites to strengthen the bones and tendons that tied a skeleton together into a working stiff. His grampa had been a master at it, even better than his mother and he had watched him every day when he was growing up. Once he was done, short of a catapult stone landing on it these would keep going without stopping. They would suffice, keeping the crops clean of bugs and weeds, mending fences, and even helping out some with the home building. They weren’t pretty, but his farm was a ways from town and it’s not like he needed to impress Gilmead next door.
Picking up a few extra components he’d need for the strengthening rituals, and on a whim a few of the pickles Shogan kept by the counter Nildar dropped gold on the counter, Shogan performed the brief ritual needed to give Nildar control skeletons and then he headed out.
“See you next week,” Nildar said. “And if you get something good that’d do for a housecleaner, save it for me will you?”
“I’ll try,” Shogan said. “Dread Lord is scooping up pretty much everything these days, but maybe I’ll get lucky. Say hi to the missus for me, I’m sure my wife will want to talk to her before too long. The first is always tough.”
|# ? May 11, 2021 03:03|
Could I get a dicord invite? I'm trying to get started writing more often, it'd be nice to have others to maybe bounce ideas off of.
|# ? May 11, 2021 03:04|
|# ? May 11, 2021 17:18|
I haven't done any creative writing that I've actually finished for a few years, so I'm very rusty and very purple (I kind of always have been). I had the idea as soon as I read the prompt and after realizing that my flakiness was being chronicled (!) I realized I needed to churn it out.
I like your moxie. Just rolling up into thunderdome and saying "why are you tracking everything i do you weirdos, well anyway here's a story!"
You should join our discord if that's your thing: https://discord.gg/Vkmd7ad2
|# ? May 11, 2021 03:28|