|# ? May 12, 2021 06:53|
|# ? Dec 2, 2023 09:23|
I'm taking arcanepunk
|# ? May 12, 2021 07:22|
In with lithiumpunk (near future electric framework)
|# ? May 12, 2021 07:36|
And RIP future self.
|# ? May 12, 2021 08:56|
In for biopunk.
|# ? May 12, 2021 09:54|
In with alchemypunk
|# ? May 12, 2021 10:16|
In with ghostpunk.
|# ? May 12, 2021 16:06|
give me a punk
|# ? May 12, 2021 18:37|
In, dealer's choice of punk.
|# ? May 12, 2021 18:43|
in with fungalpunk
|# ? May 13, 2021 00:11|
in with bonepunk
|# ? May 13, 2021 00:28|
Week 457 - Frontier Crits Part 1: The Part Oneining
The Little God
There’s a lot of little pieces to this story that didn’t quite fit for me. I’ll start with the biggest: Is this a story about Vern Ashar, legendary god-imprisoner, or Kor and Favola’s relationship with the god? (Both is fine, but both need work). Vern Ashar is set up as this larger than life, maniacal god-slayer, but the gravitas he should have versus how the characters treat him is different. He laughs, calls them nerds, and presses on, but we don’t get enough dialog between him and another character to properly establish how people feel about him and react to him, and we need that; as it is, Kor is dismissive of him and his stories. Why? They clearly believe his reputation, because Kor notes Ashar will trap the god; it’s a foregone conclusion. I like the idea of this character, but he needs to be kicked up a notch.
There’s a lot of side-characters dying, Kor makes a joke about it and Favola rolls his e yes. Why? How does the rest of the group react? By the way, I don’t get a sense that this is a fairly large group until the second section. Why are they so blase about death? The general reason (gods were bad, mostly, it outweighed the good) is tossed in at one point, but especially for our main characters (and for a bit of flavor for the unnamed NPCs tagging along), we need personal reasons that stick.
I don’t get a good sense of the motivations of Favola and Kor until latter in the story with some muddled conversation. Their relationship also feels tangential; a thing that is present, but not a focus. What brings them together? Why do they like each other? Too much is missing for me to feel these characters, and that sabotages your ending. I like the idea of the ending: Favola wanting something else, but not the last god to die. But it has no emotional impact for me. I need the wants and passions of these characters developed.
There’s other details too: I get whiplash going from paragraph 1 to 2. I wonder why these explorers don’t bother ripping the gold and jewels from these temples—seems a bit reserved for a company already bent on deicide (and drat how many die along the way!).
As a final note, I don’t get a sense of mystery and exploration. They apparently know what lurks in the hidden jungle temple. They know what will happen when they get there. They know how to get there—there’s no suspense.
there is a reason why my story feels familiar
A lot of this story is the explanation about time travel. I don’t think it works out, it just goes on a little too long. The funny metaphor about it gets a chuckle the first time, but isn’t funnier the second time. I like the idea; playing with the effects and mental state of time-merged minds, of layering foreknowledge to the point of toxicity. There’s good stuff there, and hints at characters, but not enough time perhaps spent on it. There’s a bit too much drag from the exposition, and the events are too vague to really hook. The ending saves this; I admired the moxie of that ending. It does some work, and had me laughing. I hope it got some folks to glance. It’s a great gambit; I just need the parts leading up to it to hook us and drag us along a bit better.
I have three words for you; just three words: Cum cargo ship.
Okay, I have more than that. First, an explanation. When an American says “Europa,” they mean this:
Other context clues: ice wrapped around hidden oceans. I guess you interpreted it as “Europe,” which, uh, fair enough I guess. Moving on.
You got a bunch of bonus words. I don’t think you should have used so many. The story rambled, especially in the middle. There’s “as you know” in a few places (”Your Institute developed ratwe…”) and mumbling about the science behind a fake thing, and honestly, the more the story talks about the fake science, the more I roll my eyes and feel the urge to skim. Zoe and Ureos don’t have a lot going for them as characters; they feel more like symbolic decision points: new world or old. It would be better if they felt like both. It would be better if there was a real decision. The revelation ‘the old world was bad’ from Ureos didn’t do much for me, having lived in this world. There’s an interesting idea behind “actually, the apocalypse is an improvement,” but this story doesn’t quite touch it; the alternative is cancerous mutants, so obviously that’s bad. There’s extended action with water-zombies, and Zoe splashing around, but I don’t know that does anything to make the story better. The last thing I’ll say is: I love that ending. The visual of Zoe floating on a puddle of water amidst a different kind of water, slowly expanding out like a halo around her—that’s powerful. That’s loving great. I just want a strong story preceding it to make that moment really shine.
You’re in luck: I have a lot to say about this story. Not nice things, mind you; it’ll be hard to read. I’m going to excoriate your words. But if you read it all and take the critique to heart, your flayed soul will re-emerge stronger.
An important note, before we begin: One of the hardest parts of writing is that you have all the context of the story in your head, and your brain assumes other people will pick up what you mean, but they don’t: They only read what you actually say. Let’s talk about what you have:
Characters: Characters are the reason most people keep reading a story. Your story doesn’t have any. The drone operator is unnamed, and utterly emotionless. Even when confronting what I will refer to as the MYSTERIOUS BLACK SHADOW-ORB, we get no emotional reaction from him; no hint of nerves, no shock when encountering an unexpected event, no words spoken, just the unbiased actions of an Extremely Rational Human Male, which is the only thing I can tell you about him at all. This means the reader has no one to relate to, which means all you have left to carry the story are the prose, setting, and plot.
Setting: There’s a lot missing here. When does this story take place? Somewhat close to modern times, I can tell, because you mention roombas and the drone is mostly self-guided (though I’m going to tell you that when the story claims that a self-driving drone is anything like a roomba, I don’t believe it for a moment. Where does the story take place? An ocean. That doesn’t narrow things down much. Worse, I don’t have the context of anything else. This guy appears to be up on a boat all on his own—exploring marine canyons to the depth where bioluminescence is common. How? Him and what budget? What kind of ship is he on? The story tells me that he has ‘untrained eyes,’ that he doesn’t know the names of fishes even, that he’s not an expert in any of this stuff—then why the hell is he out there!? Ocean ships are expensive! Anything exploring significant depths is expensive! This doesn’t make me wonder about the deep mysteries of the story, by the way. It makes me disbelieve that the story knows what it’s talking about; I don’t buy for a moment that this is real, because it doesn’t connect with anything I know about ocean research, deep sea exploration, and programming—which is not a lot, mind you, but enough to know this ain’t it.
Plot: A man pilots a drone down to an undiscovered cavern, encounters something weird, and leaves. There is not a lot there; no symbolism, no themes, no characters, no tension. This story meandered at an excruciating pace while nothing happened, and then when something did happened, nothing resulted. There is no plot. The interesting thing that might have happened was the encounter with the MYSTERIOUS BLACK SHADOW-ORB, but you remove it from the story before anything interesting can happen. You don’t give the reader a reason to care about what is happening or why, and do not indicate that anything you’re saying is of any import. This leaves you with one recourse: Dazzle them with your prose.
Prose: I’m going to point out a few examples of where the sentence level writing goes wrong:
“Rising over the ridge, the drone kicked up a small amount of silt from its twin fans as it advanced towards the canyon ahead.” I’m imagining a helicopter drone at this point. When you mention he’s three miles above, that gives me pause, but only three sentences in do I suddenly need to change everything I just imagined to underwater, and that’s jarring. When you say “glow in the dark fish, or maybe a giant squid,” I can tell this story doesn’t know much about the ocean its exploring. You ramble on about the capabilities of the sea-Roomba a lot, and all of that can be cut: If you don’t need exposition, get rid of it.
A comment on “…the pilot felt it was important to have an accurate scan. “ and “The hard part was going to be figuring out what it was, and if he could get something out of it.”—the character should have had an interesting motivation established, but we don’t even get that he’ll get paid out of this. He doesn’t even know why he’s out here, I expect because you might not know either. He finds a vague topological feature, but this is boring as anything because the reader doesn’t know why it’s important. You have to give the reader a taste of the mystery, just a little hit so they know what the good poo poo is like so you can hook ‘em.
"but after a moment he realized 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" is harmful to read; Try something like this:"He realized it wasn't static on the screen, but scintillating particles, swirling and rippling in the current. After awhile, he blinked. How long had he been staring at it?" Because "hypnotic pattern" and "whirl" say the same thing; colorful static and particles... scintillation and swirling/cascading all repeat an image, and the order it's introduced is all wrong.
I don't normally comment on passive voice, because it has a place, but, "Slight resistance was felt... this was attributed to the cloud..." it is all over the place and it is noticeable and distracting.
You also just have formatting errors (like a missing paragraph break) and inconsistencies like: Third and 4th, then fifth. And typos like "It's arm" (it’s is only ever short for ‘it is’).
Overall, this adds up to create a story that is painful to read, and has no redeeming features. I strongly recommend you read some of the HMs this week (or actual, published stories) with an eye for how they establish characters, plot, and setting. Then try and bring something from what you read to the next story you write—and there better be a loving ‘nother one, because I didn’t write this all so you could quit and learn nothing.
There’s a lighthearted tone to the story, which indicates an attempt at humor. Certainly, there’s no gravitas to anything that happens, but the levity doesn’t land for me, it just makes me not take the story seriously. There’s a bunch of biblical references to tell me the setting, but these don’t feel like historical people or like the story really knows the setting. Lines like “A boat… like the Egyptians, and the Phoenicians” doesn’t feel like something anyone in ancient Jericho would say. Then, there’s the positioning of the army outside of Jericho: ‘They’ll invade one day.’ Uh, is this a city under siege? It sure doesn’t feel like it. And ‘one day’ is not ‘tomorrow,’ but yeah, they invaded the very next day. But these didn’t feel like people dealing with an army threatening their town. The prose doesn’t sell the chaos of a city being sacked. I also don’t buy Malek building a boat big enough to fit multiple people and just, by himself, flipping it from his roof. There’s not really a tension either: everyone says ‘no the boat is a silly idea’ and then immediately ‘alright well they invaded I guess we’ll go on that boat’; the characters don’t feel in danger. Instead of getting any emotional resonance as people beg to be saved, we just get it breezed by. I hate to say “show, don’t tell,” but—sometimes. Yeah.
It’s also just absurd logistics: A bunch of random dudes are carrying this boat a half-mile overland to a river. Then, they don’t even use that boat for sailing the ocean, like the story said earlier, but they trade it for cows. So, uh, how did they finally end up with a boat? Well, that’s glossed over. Then the ending goes “by the way that guy totally did sail the Mediterranean, later, offscreen, so please don’t DQ this, anyways, we’re on our way back to get all my friends (also just out of the frame).” This dodged the spirit of the prompt hard, and avoided any pathos or doing or saying anything interesting. You can thank the other judges it didn’t DM, as I thought it was about as attractive as a rotting pile of murex shells left over from a batch of Tyrian purple and still don’t understand what redeeming qualities they saw in it.
|# ? May 13, 2021 03:48|
In, dealer's choice of punk.
give me a punk
|# ? May 13, 2021 05:55|
|# ? May 14, 2021 00:50|
Lest I forget, in with Artpunk
|# ? May 14, 2021 15:39|
Dealer choice punk
|# ? May 14, 2021 15:42|
Dealer choice punk
|# ? May 14, 2021 15:59|
|# ? May 15, 2021 03:01|
Signups are closed.
Two judge slots are still open.
|# ? May 15, 2021 07:04|
Week 457 - Frontier Crits Part 2: The Second Part
Anyone new or struggling this week, I’m going to recommend you read the stories that won/HM’d and their crits, because I think it’s instructive to understand how and why they worked.
This is a story about trying to find joy and fulfillment in life. The character’s real life—an experience in our modern corporate dystopia and the ennui of boring routine—is deeply unsatisfying, and so they seek that through dreams. Many people will find the description of the dissatisfaction relatable, though their escape mechanisms might vary. A strong first section.
The second section is weaker; paragraphs 1 and 2 sort of ramble a bit. The third paragraph (”He’d look back…”) is better, as it starts to play with this idea of the dream world being vivid and the real this fuzzy vagueness, a reversal that is interesting and could be further developed.
The third section has some interesting descriptions, and an important character moment, as he reaches a low. I would further develop the idea between the colorful world and the gray one, the real and the dream. It feels like the fourth paragraph plays with the idea of a relationship tempting the character away from his dreams, but there’s not much there. I’m not entirely sure the reason for the fourth section; perhaps emphasizing his disconnect from all community and connection?
The end is a strength; in the end, happiness will not come from lucid dreaming, and the character has fallen far enough that they can’t imagine what it is they really want and is stumbling through life, with dream and reality blurred together. It feels like the story is about two things; this gray death of hope, that the character cannot even dream it, and the mixing/contrast of dreams and reality. I think there are places where the story can narrow its focus on these things and make each line serve these themes.
If I could give you these stars…
There is a lot this story does right. The opening line is great, but the story also plays with this expectation; it’s not actually about a breakup, but giving up being together in order to better fulfill each other’s dreams. It’s the definition of bittersweet, this inevitable tragedy. Lines like ““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” and the ending are great at selling the strength of their relationship. There’s lots of little emotional punches, and the story explores a classic idea in scifi: The massive distances between the stars requiring anyone exploring them to disconnect from the people they knew and the world they came from.
It’s the knowledge of the scifi genre where the story struggles. The prompt specifies “Andromeda, once 2.5 million light years distant”; to explore it, this either implies 4.5 billion years have passed and the galaxies are colliding, or your society has ships that can exceed the speed of light (or get around it) by a lot, or something weird happened and Andromeda is suddenly a lot closer (in which case, someone would surely comment). There’s places in the story that imply the story doesn’t know this: “We’d be gone for what felt like a few years, but on Earth, we’d be gone for a century at least.” (This also contradicts the early line “Not for a few million years”). The ship can’t be traveling fast because he can look out a window and see “the countless stars and drifting moons….” And they’re going slow enough to investigate the exoplanets they pass. And there’s lines like “it was a recon mission,… so intelligence wasn’t important” that stick in the craw.
That’s all easy to fix; if you edit it, the prompt can get chucked in the bin, so you can narrow the scope of the exploration but still keep the critical separation of the characters, and the story is mostly solid. If you’re going to write it as sci-fi, though, you have to give the genre it’s due; alternatively, you can take it into full don’t-give-a-gently caress land like Obliterati’s piece. Either way, it was an enjoyable read; thanks for the words.
How To Navigate The Remains of Ross-248-b
This story does it what it loving wants and it knows it. There’s a confidence to it that tells the reader to sit down, and if they don’t get it, maybe they’re a fuckin idiot who needs to reread it until they do? There’s an implied depth to it, and so the story also acts as a puzzle. It also knows its own setting; it’s not sci-fi, it’s just in space; it doesn’t care about technology, and so it doesn’t waste time explaining those parts because they don’t matter. I like lines like, “This is where you’ll learn if you chose your captain well. Good ones flip and burn, match velocities, and make new maps.” It doesn’t really explain, but it does imply, and the jargon makes it beyond reproach. Even the most pedantic of sci-fi nerds cannot possibly find a crack to dig into. Lines like “It is tumbling through space at half the speed of light. It orbits a cooling fragment of a shattered world. It’s yellow.”—that’s fuckin’ great, the contrast. The “theories” bit tells us that no one really gets what happened, so it’s okay if they don’t.
What’s this story about? Well I’m not to sure, and that’s both good and bad. The impenetrability can also keep a reader from getting to close to it. I think what happened is this: an alien planet exploded (duh), and the remains are heading toward the solar system, but a piece of Earth, displaced, perhaps sucked into a wormhole, perhaps from alternate realities colliding, was part of that. That piece of Earth, including the museum and train, was an integral part of the narrator’s kid’s childhood. The narrator regrets the parent he was, and advises his kid not to look to the shattered past, but the future
I like the ending; it’s a parent trying to prevent his kid from following his path, trying his best, even if he knows it wasn’t as good as it should have been. That’s relatable, even in the context of blurred reality and space trains. If you want the reader to know what’s going on, you’ll need to clarify. If you want them to wonder, this story’s on the right track.
Keep Sailing South
First, I’m going to acknowledge that I think you were trying to break from convention; these aren’t Spanish or Portuguese explorers, as one might immediately consider when seeing the prompt (having been indoctrinated with the classic Western history narrative of the age of exploration).
However, what the setting is is less clear. What time period is this taking place in? I can’t actually tell; not from the terms (kingdom; vague) or the technology on the ship (sail and a very small crew). What are they looking for? I can Google “Ge’ez” and get that this puts them as either setting out from or having previously traded with the Eritrea/Ethiopia area and probably setting out well before 1200 AD. But you need something that’s going to situate the reader in when they are, and referencing ‘gold coins’ and nondescript items (and refusing to describe the ship or clothing or context of the events) leaves them wondering.
There’s also a lack of characterization. I get very little sense of who these people are, what their desires are, or what they believe. Next, the voice of these characters feels off; you use a lot of modern terms rather than historical ones. "Something unique to bring back home" is weak; "The king/queen demands a tribute worthy of their name. Do you think they funded this expedition for colored berries?" would build some setting and context. And—why the hell is the expedition bringing back berries anyways? Gonna agree with Kabur here that these dudes are morons. And people weren’t going to be dumb enough to eat random berries they found (mostly poisonous). Your description of the berries is also weak, and emblematic of the vague nature of almost all the descriptions in this story. You’re not even going to tell me what color the berries are? “He’s been weakened by some kind of affliction,” is vague; try “He tried to hide his shaking and the fever,” and then maybe think about the context: Ancient people usually understood enough about disease to know you didn’t just let someone with the plague keep running around. What’s the crew’s reaction? So many descriptions in this story are vague. "Some kind of metal"--lazy! How many metals does the older historical world have? Bronze. Tin. Iron. That's basically it.
This story needs an editing pass: "They do not speak neither our language nor Greek.” This also has some really jarring tense shifts;"I've managed to buy one..." "They also had some primative tools..." This feels like it might be improved by being diary entries. "The language barrier" is such a modern term it feels out of place. Also, historical people not being okay with abduction and slavery is, sadly, a bit rare. And there's too little about the characters. Accusations of mutiny and "my father will hear of this!" (okay Malfoy) don't have the context of the time or situation. Too much takes me out of the story. The ending doesn’t really resolve anything, and I still don’t even understand what they were looking for. “Something” is too vague; historical expeditions had a purpose beyond ‘just gonna see what’s there.’ By adding context and specifics, you’ll place the reader in the world, rather than wondering when and where they are (or waiting until the penultimate line to let them know they originated from Mosylon, which no one is going to know about without Googling it).
To summarize: Remember to develop your characters. They should have motivations. Descriptions should be specific and help develop the setting. Make sure to include a plot.
Alright, I’m gonna tell you what I told the other sea-based username: I have a lot to say about this, and it ain’t nice stuff, but after you read it you’ll emerge stronger. I don’t know how you tell if a shark is stronger. Bulging fins? Anyways:
The story can’t help but repeatedly inform readers that it doesn’t understand how science works. You start okay: we’re at the LHC, you mention electrons and supersymmetry, but it falls apart as soon as Guy Prime meets Guy Secundus.
You have to understand. These are physicists. They’re fuckin’ nerds. They’re not going to punch each other as a dream-check. This would be the most exciting thing to possibly happen to them: they’re going to want to analyze it, and discuss the physics, and discuss the implications. They have entire different realities to compare! That’s exciting! That’s why they’re at CERN! These sound like lazy office workers, and one is entirely bored by it, and the other is like ‘man, my reality-clone sure is crazy lol.’ "Okay smarty pants" --definitely a thing a grown adult with a PhD in physics would say having breached another dimension. I don’t buy the characters, I don’t buy their reactions, and therefore I don’t buy any of what happens next.
Why does Guy Prime start lying? And so implausibly? They’re in a secure facility—random brothers are not just walking in! And there’s no reason for deception! “this is a remarkable opportunity to study the fundamental differences between universes” explains what should be happening, and the CHIEF SCIENCE DIRECTOR of the facility that ALREADY INSTALLED THE MACGUFFIN THAT PREVENTS WORMHOLES FROM FORMING (THAT THEY KNOW ABOUT) is not going to skeptical of a wormhole displacing people because they INSTALLED THE TECH TO STOP THAT FROM HAPPENING and the only way they know about it is because they must have, at some point, gotten the data to prove it! The story doesn’t know itself and it’s infuriating.
So anyways, apparently reality can’t abide by two people from the same reality for some reason, which I’m sure is based on that wacky theory that popped up when the LHC was just starting where people were like “haha maybe it’ll never start because the universe is preventing it because [thing]” which was asinine, but sure, there’s your plot I guess. Everyone is pretty blase about these disasters and an person from another dimension running around, so it doesn’t feel real, just like the story is churning through its plot because it knows it needs to get to the end. Happily, physics is simple enough that Guy Secundus can just explain how a Schwarzchild limiter works in a few minutes and solve everything.
In summary: Your characters don’t feel real from a combination of their actions and dialogue. The story doesn’t sell itself as plausible, and the demands of the plot rush the reader through events on a railroad that leaves no time for discussions, reactions, or emotions.
The First Four Frontiers
This story feels like a sci-fi tribute, and it’s really impressive how much it manages to cram in given its size. We’ve got Mark
One way the story is able to able to manage this is quick setting jumps; as silly as pointing out ‘notice the author just told us the place and time’ is, there were a few stories that could have benefited from that this week. Lines like “…even with input from the World Climate Council through laser transmission” and “Then the radical Preservations are out of the coalition?” advance the plot and also tell us critical details about the setting, hinting at how the world has changed. It also gives depth to the world, as does the political intrigue implicit in the last scene; these are clearly people living in a world with different motivations. The story is dense with information about setting, character, motivations, and themes. There’s an intellectual aspect to the story; thinking about solving the mysteries the characters are engaged with, exploring what galactic politics might look like (with the Axu’s philosophy and the Scourge’s), and exploring what the human reaction might be to it all (with Peter and Ng).
The weakness of the story is that it’s dense and fast-paced enough that there’s not really room for emotions and really feeling attached to any of the characters. They come and go too fast. The story’s ending leaves an open frontier, which is thematically justified, but perhaps unsatisfying. Even that sense of longing for closure is not as strong as it could be; many stories this week had a solid ending, but not the setup to support it, while this one suffers the opposite. It might be the scope of the story was too ambitious, and it might be better to just focus on the parts of the world that the wormholes swapped; or perhaps, the story could be expanded. Obviously, though, the density, structure, flow, and interesting parts of the story brought it to the well deserved win.
|# ? May 15, 2021 17:42|
“Mom, I gotta go back before the morning. I forgot the box with Great-Grandpa’s war stuff.”
She looked back at me, I wasn’t sure if she was skeptical or just exhausted from moving our few possessions across the valley from track car to track car to this dump all day.
“The old thing doesn’t even work. Some Habsburg Steyr piece of junk. Don’t get in trouble, don’t do anything stupid. The house is gone, the company owns it now”
“He carried that thing back after the defeat at the pocket at La Havre back home, I’m not going to abandon it now. It’ll be fine. Smuggling an old illegal pistol back is a lot less dangerous than fighting in the Great War.”
She looked at me and didn’t say anything.
“I’ll be back in the morning.”
I think she knew I was lying about that part at least.
I started walking back to the trackcar metro station. It was a bright orange night, with the heavy smog layer shining back sickly orange over the Los Angeles valley. The rain began to open up, coming down not only hard but intermixed with the clouds of exhaust that were trapped by the hills around the city, raining grime on me and everyone else unfortunate enough to still be out here.
The nón lá style hat found a new purchase in the region not too long ago, when the weather started to turn apocalyptic on a daily basis. There wasn’t much fashionable about looking like a southeast Asian farmer in a place that used to rain only a few times a year when I was a child, but the wide brim of the hat kept some of the grime off. It wasn’t hard to see why the look caught on quickly when it started raining daily, and then rain started pulling aerosolized grime back down onto you.
I waited on the platform until a massive old trackcar pulled up, spewing black clouds as the engine slowed down and cooled.
I wasn’t headed back to my soon-to-be crushed childhood home. What I was about to do was much dumber. Or smarter. Or both. I would never see my home in Long Beach again, and probably not because it was due to be demolished tomorrow to build another petrochemical conversion plant sucking up the ocean’s biomass.
The campus had been closed for the week due to another strike. I went to my locker in the decrepit physics building. Atomics as a field of study had at best gotten forgotten and more usually treated with hostility by the university. And well, my old advisor was a bit of a nut. He loved to go on about how those glowing rocks could one day replace petros, and fix all the floods, smog, and exhaust sickness. He was a bit of an optimist. It did him little good when he was laid off last year.
The first decade of the Long War inspired a whole bunch of creative ways to fuel the war machine, but as the losses rose and the resources spread thin fighting a stagnant battle in another continent, military research funding turned back to proven technology, into the petrochemical war machine.
I found my locker with my pick set, a workers helmet and jacket, and a pistol that wasn’t Austria-Hungarian junk. I bought it a few months back when I realized that I had less and less to lose every day.
The petrosciences building was about as well maintained as anything could be with the acid rain. Building anything even off-white anymore was just either showing off or asking for failure. After my field of study was suddenly purged from the offering, I ended up in that building as an assistant in the biologics lab. I think they forgot about the atomics candidates, but I was still getting a research cost of living stipend and, most importantly, access during the day. It was there I realized the impact uranium seemed to have on the microbes, mutating them impossibly fast.
I found the back door of the petrosciences building that housed all the engines for the fluid computation engines, which was almost always poorly secured. The workers had to go in and out all day to deal with those finicky machines. Keeping more than a cheap and easy to use lock on it would lead to them breaking it off.
I walked quickly past the hall of hot giant boxes with fluid displays making calculations over the night to the staircase and made my way to the biologics lab.
I found the cultures that I had stashed in the live storage area with a unique but innocuous label. The prize discovery of this university early in the war were bacteria that could convert all sorts of matter to hydrocarbons. A few decades later and they were still iterating on this, trying to get the bacteria to consume new kinds of matter.
It took time and generations to get a successful outcome- until I realized the true power of these glowing particles emitting rocks. I could get mutations in a tiny, tiny fraction of the time it took all the experts in the lab. It didn't take long until I found my crown jewel. It only took me a few weeks. In another world, I could have made a lot of money.
But I wasn’t going to let the petrochemical companies and military take my discovery and give me an award or two in return. They can find more ways to make the chemicals that powered our engines and destroyed our bodies cheaper on their own. The world can’t go on like this. I had a better idea.
An aerosol-capable bacteria that ate hydrocarbons. One that wasn’t designed to die off outside of a controlled environment. One that would spread uncontrolled.
Another long walk and a couple traincar rides to the fuel routing center at the port. I put on the worker’s jacket and hard helmet and tossed my Vietnamese-style hat in the sickly looking brown patch of iceplants on the hillside.
I said morning to the guard as I walked through the workers entrance to the port complex, doing everything I could to hide my terror. I felt like everyone could make me in a second.
He nodded back, looking bored.
Once out of sight I walked quickly.
It wasn’t hard to find the central storage area. I walked through an open gate.
I made it to the central tanks and climbed up the ladder. I heard shouting below.
I guess I could see my old house from here. Pipelines connecting all the massive fuel tanks to each other and sprawling out infrastructure of the city as far as I could see through the smog.
Where was that hatch now.
A supervisor came running toward me from the catwalks connecting to the other tanks, yelling. I was way too scared to actually comprehend the exact words. It didn’t matter much.
He made it to the tank I was on and vaulted over the chain at the end of the catwalk. I pulled the pistol and fired, striking him in the chest. I had to hurry. I couldn’t think about this. There wasn’t much time.
I pried open a hatch, broke the vial and dropped it in, hearing a splash and then bubbling. It would spread, first to the city, through the supply chains, through the air, through our war machine, through their war machine.
I heard sirens, shouts and the roar of the police armored cars pulling up below as I stared into the tank.
I don’t know what the world would look like tomorrow, but I probably won’t be here to see it.
|# ? May 16, 2021 03:14|
How To Change Stone into Bread
Men in robes and thick canvas gloves dumped piles of raw material into massive black-iron bubbling vats: smashed stone, weeds ripped from pavement cracks, chalk. Bryan wiped sweat from his face and hauled his wheelbarrow back to the yards for another load, and caught sight of Cosimo flashing him a grin. Bryan threw it back, but that smile faded quickly as he returned to work.
The hours were long in the vathouse. He sat outside well past sundown, his skin slick with sweat, and leaned his head into the corner of the courtyard. Thick haze fell over the city of Saltflats as distant factories belched smoke and steam into the air.
The cooks brought their finished product out in cloth-wrapped bundles to be distributed across the lower quarters. The cheap chembread would sustain the poor for the next week, though if people knew what went into the vats, if they knew how the alchemists turned stone to food, if they heard the prayers and felt the magic, nobody would touch the stuff, not for anything.
Cosimo approached and slumped down next to Bryan. He stank like grease and tangy ozone.
“My back aches,” Cosimo declared. “My shoulders hurt. My hands feel like poo poo. My lungs are on fire. My eyes won’t stop watering. And honestly, I’m the happiest man in the world.” Cosimo’s enthusiasm was infectious, and even the mages liked him. He was burly, covered in fine black hair, with a curly mop of it on the top of his skull.
“I’m glad you’re in a good mood,” Bryan said. “Considering we spent the last day shoveling rocks.”
Cosimo cracked his knuckles, one by one, and leaned closer. “What did you find for me today?” he asked in a low voice, almost casual, but Bryan heard the anxious undertone.
“Two guards at the base of the stairs,” Bryan said. “Lizardheads I think. I saw two mages carry a recipe box up there.”
Cosimo grunted. “What else?”
“Door’s definitely locked. Mages had a special key.” Bryan stretched his neck. “This might be your worst idea yet, you know. Nobody steals from the alchemists.”
“We can do this,” Cosimo said. “We just need a way through that door.”
Bryan let out a slow, weary sigh, then reached into the folds of his ratty work tunic and produced a small iron key with a long hook at one end.
“You gorgeous man,” Cosimo said, eyes shining.
“Picked a mage’s pocket for this,” Bryan said. “He could’ve thrown me into the vats, you know.”
Cosimo tried to laugh, but doubled over instead with a wild coughing fit. When it was finished, he had blood on his hands.
“Come on,” Bryan said and helped his friend up. “Let’s get you home before your lungs give out.”
Sticky globs of light pustules shivered in the evening breeze atop their large poles. Their glow was weak and yellow-green, but they gave new life to the City of Saltflats. Before the alchemists came and revolutionized the world, the city at night was quiet and partially abandoned, but now folks swamped the streets moving from restaurant to drinking hall to pub. Raptor-pulled carriages, crocodile beasts the size of small horses, skittered down the street. Men in thick rubber suits with gears and steaming packs sprayed noxious liquids into the gutters to sterilize the smell of poo poo and sweat and blood. The tall, narrow row houses belched smoke from their chemical guts, nearly blotting out the moon and the stars, and enormous public crawling machines powered by burning mercury lumbered along packed with the poorest of the city on their way home from work.
Saltflats was a maze, grown up from a centrally planned fortress hundreds of years ago. Bryan led the way past groups of men spinning chemical dice that flashed different colors and numbers as they rolled, through crowds overflowing from packed bars, and down a damp alley corridor.
Cosimo’s breathing was labored as they reached the tenement. The pungent air wasn’t good for him. Bryan had wanted to move away for years, but they couldn’t afford it. They went in the back entrance, up the loose stairs, and into their two-room apartment. The green wallpaper peeled in long strips, and their furniture was a jumble of stolen chairs, boosted tables, and dented pots and pans.
Cosimo collapsed onto the low couch, hand on his chest. Bryan hurried into the bedroom and grabbed the mister, a heavy brass contraption with a mouthpiece at one end and a series of bladders and chemical heating elements at the other. He set it up in front of Cosimo, placed a measure of powder in a small dish at the top, and worked the hand crank until the powder caught fire. Cosimo leaned forward and breathed the vapors as deep as he could.
“Better?” Bryan asked.
“Better,” Cosimo said with a sigh.
Bryan paced across the room. “We’re almost out of the medicine,” he said. “And we can’t afford another packet with what we’ve saved.”
“Then we move the timetable up,” Cosimo said. “Tomorrow night.”
Bryan wiped his face with both palms. He felt a shiver down in his chest, in his feet. He’d done a lot of foolish things with Cosimo over the years: ripped off foreign merchants with fake vials of blessed mercury, scammed rich folk up in Foreverside with powders and holy symbols, forged recipe books for creepy back alley chemists. But stealing from an actual alchemical company was beyond anything.
And yet Cosimo’s scarred lungs were worse every day, and soon the medicine wouldn’t work anymore, assuming they could even afford it. Stealing the recipe for the chembread could save them both. There were hundreds of buyers in Saltflats, and with the profits they could leave the city, start over somewhere with cleaner air, and buy all the cures and powders Cosimo could ever need.
Bryan sat down next to his best friend and draped an arm across the big man’s shoulder. They’d been together since they were children running wild in the gutters. He’d do whatever it took to keep Cosimo alive.
“Tomorrow it is then,” Bryan said.
Cosimo leaned his head against Bryan’s shoulder.
The company’s side door was unlocked, despite the late hour—Bryan made sure of that before he left from last shift earlier in the night. He slipped inside with Cosimo right behind. The familiar halls of the bakery were quiet and dark, and the soot stains and chipped plaster felt oppressive. They made their way along the factory floor, passed beneath the massive iron vats caked with years and years of fumes and burning materials, and climbed up the back ramp to the second level.
The stairs to the recipe room were tucked in the far corner down a short hall, away from the bustle of the cooking floor. “The guards are still on duty,” Cosimo whispered.
Bryan slipped a long, hollow brass rod from his tunic. It had cost them every last penny they had. The center was made of glass, and two different liquids sat inside the middle vial. Bryan shook it hard, mixing the components, and pointed the end toward the nearest vat.
Light sparked from the rod as the chemical reaction roared outward. Blue electricity smashed into one of the chains holding the big vat up. It snapped with a massive clang and the whole enormous contraption tilted to one side, the ceiling groaning under the shifted weight. Boiling alkahest spilled over the side onto the floor below, eating a massive hole in the concrete.
The guards came running. Lizardheads with green scales, the size and shape of an average man, but with a long, skinny tail swishing along the floor. They were alchemical nightmares, monsters born from the worst of the arts, a combination of a condemned man’s mind and a massive lizard’s body. The Lizardheads stared at the broken vat and hissed in some strange language. Eventually, they ran off together, hurrying down a side passage.
“Now,” Cosimo said and ran out from their hiding spot. Bryan tossed the spent rod and chased after him.
The back hall was clear. Bryan slammed the wizard key into the plain iron door’s lock and turned. It clicked with a deep reverberation and opened slowly toward them.
Stairs led up. Cosimo went first and Bryan followed.
The recipe room was simple and windowless. Filing card catalogues were lined up along the walls, and several tables stood in the middle. Cosimo began ripping through the drawers. Bryan gaped—there must’ve been millions word of recipes.
“Here,” Cosimo said, sucking in a breath. He held up an old, faded yellow card with cramped writing covering its front and simple alchemical symbols on the back. He shoved it into his robes. “Come on, let’s go.”
Back down the stairs. Bryan shot a look over his shoulder and wished he’d grabbed more recipes. Cosimo stopped at the end of the hall, peering out onto the cook floor.
Lizardheads swarmed the place. “poo poo,” Cosimo said. “Too many of them.”
“Is there a window?” Bryan asked. “We can get out that way.”
“One floor down,” Cosimo said. He took a deep breath then coughed wetly. “We’ll make a break for it,” he said.
Bryan wanted to argue—there had to be a better plan—but Cosimo sprinted toward the ramp and Bryan went after him.
They didn’t get far. The first Lizardhead to notice them hissed wildly and climbed the wall like his hands were made of glue. It swung itself up behind them, tongue lapping at the air, a curved blade in its hand.
Cosimo turned right and dove down the ramp. Bryan kept close, hands sweating, tunic fluttering behind him. The Lizardhead was fast, and it flew after them.
They reached the center floor and Cosimo turned right, through a side door, and down a long storage hall. Bryan slammed the door shut just as the Lizardhead reached them. The monster bashed against it as Bryan ran, and the door smashed open moment later.
Cosimo ripped a window open at the end of the narrow hall. “Here,” he said. “This way.”
More Lizardheads crawled in through the doorway and came toward them. Cosimo grabbed Bryan and shoved him out first. Bryan scrambled over and hung there for a moment, fingers straining on the ledge.
“Come on,” Bryan said, reaching a hand back inside. The drop would hurt, but it wouldn’t kill them.
“Sorry,” Cosimo said, smiling sadly. “They’d never let us get away.”
“What are you doing?” Bryan tried not to scream as Cosimo shoved a yellowed, tattered recipe card into his hand.
Then turned and ran at the Lizardheads.
He didn’t last long. The first Lizardhead was surprised as Cosimo barreled into it, but the creature threw Cosimo to the ground and lashed out with its blade. The monsters fell on him, stabbing, tearing, kicking.
Bryan released a sharp sob and dropped. He hit the ground hard, hobbled once, twice, then began to run.
Behind him, those monsters slaughtered the only friend he’d ever had. They’d feast on him and throw what was left into the vats.
Now Bryan was alone, left with nothing, and no amount of money, no recipe, no magic could bring back what was gone.
|# ? May 16, 2021 10:38|
For the ease of archiving, it would be super cool if people could include their punk choice/assignment with their post. Thanks!
|# ? May 16, 2021 14:26|
I was dieselpunk
|# ? May 16, 2021 15:50|
Crit of interprompt story The Necromancer
The first noticeable thing: You use non English alphabetic characters in the story, including for the main character’s name. I cannot even begin to know how to pronounce them, and I’m going to tell you your average English reader isn’t either. When your story gets to bolded section, I read it as “Introduction of _____ to the ______" and it means nothing. It’s a big distractor, and the fact that your reader cannot read the words out loud is a problem; and what purpose does it serve? In your second post, you refer to it as “it worked as a similar device.” Doing what? Similar to what? The things you write in a story should serve a purpose, the benefits to the story should outweigh the costs.
You use an archaic voice in the story. This is fine, but again comes with a cost: As you achieve this, you completely omit dialogue. This makes it hard to put the reader in a scene; the entire thing is “tell,” with no “show.” Again, that can work, but you should be aware this keeps the reader distant, and in your story’s case, makes reading it something of a chore. I don’t give a poo poo about this boy or the father, and what reason have you given me to? The prose fits the archaic style, but there’s a reason I don’t read old books with that style a lot: I find the style difficult to read, and my eyes start to glaze over. The italicized part is especially onerous; try reading it out loud. Take something like: “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.” Good god, I’ll need a necromancer to reanimate my eyeballs after beholding that. You said you know your prose is purple. You may wish to make an effort to try writing with more simplicity and clarity and see what kind of writing that produces. Your reader is under no obligation to read what you have written. Had I not committed to reading your piece and critiquing it, you would have lost me in the italicized section.
This is compounded by your introduction. Your hook is that there’s some prophesy. Okay. Then what? What is this story about? The kid is a necromancer. Fine; that’s vague. Why am I reading this story? In a novel, you have time to durdle around. In a flash or short, you need to hook your reader faster. Take a look at how flerp, Thranguy, and Obliterati introduced their stories last week. Think about how those lines hook the reader, and how they also inform the reader what the rest of the story is about. Fully through the first section of your story, I still am not sure what yours is getting to. The italicized section is entirely worldbuilding/backstory, and I think it should all be cut. Anything you need from it should be incorporated into a scene or dialogue exchange.
You have some good lines. For example:
“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.” A lot of your story rambles, but this doesn’t. It’s a quick punch, and it tells us the love the father has for his son and the brutality of the empire and its servants, as well as the justice system of the rural society.
“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.” This is something I think the story should delve more into: The cost of necromancy, and how that exchange affects the land and people. If you turn the story away from the strict ‘tell only,’ you might have an exchange between the necromancer and a family he’s helping, and give us the reactions of the people. As it is, this does wordbuilding and characterizes the protagonist as ruthless.
Consider, though: What if the story was mostly about the cost of necromancy? Years drained away, fields bloom but then are barren, fertility stolen—there’s interesting ideas there to play with, and how different people might react to it, but currently, your story mostly just mentions these tidbits in passing to no real effect. The actual conflict you settled on, a hero fighting the necromancer, appears suddenly at the end of the story with no foreshadowing (despite your reference to prophesy). But instead of having an ending that focuses on the result (dead lands for leagues and leagues! What does this lead to?), it’s just: oh, he won, the prince looted the sword, and he keeps going around raising the dead. You end the story at the grave of the son’s father, which should be an emotional moment for the reader (since I think you mean to show the inhumanity and disconnect of the son), but there’s nothing; it’s breezed over. The ending should hit like an iron rib, but instead, we get a wet noodle.
To summarize: You successfully adopt an archaic style, but it comes at the cost of ease of reading. Your characters are unrelatable, and a reader will find little way to connect with them or feel any emotions because the story keeps them at a distance. The story is bloated with unneeded worldbuilding, and the reader is lost, not sure of what the story is about (a problem only compounded by the obfuscating nature of the prose). There are, however, solid tidbits here that can be expanded on. I hope that your next story considers these critiques.
|# ? May 16, 2021 16:34|
Whoops sorry, I was alchemypunk
|# ? May 16, 2021 17:43|
The Faceless Artist
Jacques felt a pressure inside like a can of spray-paint, and he felt like when he reached his goal, he might as well splatter on it like a botched artwork on concrete canvas. CR had asked to meet him alone, without the others of their collective, and what could that mean? Had CR noticed how Jacques stared just a bit too long when an aristocratic eyebrow arched over chiseled features, how the content of inflamed speeches was swept away by the sonorous sound of CR’s voice?
And if CR had noticed - did he want to tell Jacques in private to knock it off and focus on their noble goals? Or was it…a date?
“A date with fate to elate?”, a voice asked, and cleared the anxious cloud surrounding Jacques.
A man dressed in a creased, ill-fitting suit and a tie too long in front shoved a piece of paper into Jacques’ face. “With the rhymes on this list, you too can write poetry like the best, can feel from a muse kissed, all your friends will be impressed!”
Jacques cringed. “I’ll stick to painting, thank you.”
The man gasped exaggeratedly, holding up a manicured hand in front of his mouth, nails painted in a color that clashed with his lipstick. “Oh, but painting requires actual skill! For the paltry price of three green leaflets of currency, you can take a shortcut to high society. I have no talent, but I have my list, and now look at me!”
He made a crude approximation of a model pose.
Jacques opened his baggy paint-flecked coat to expose four paint cans in a belt holster. “My money goes into supplies. Because I’m an actual artist, you see.”
The hustler cocked his head and sneered. “I’m sure petty vandalism will propel you into fame, fortune and recognition.”
Jacques looked to the left: a packed street of uneven buildings, designed by committee not architects, with crude stalls in front where people tried to desperately sell sketches, figurines, novellas; art made by the artless, who could never hope to scrounge together enough talent to make it.
To the right: the slums eventually gave way to competently made - if uninspiring - houses, where craftspeople lived. Talented not in artistry but precision, they earned their keep making canvas, binding books, mixing clay. Further along, the artisans, who made unique paint mixtures and the like. And finally, the villas and mansions, all columns and stucco, marble and glass and daring design, some classical, some neo-brutalist, all architectural marvels. Where the demigods calling themselves true artists resided.
Jacques pointed up there. “You’re a far cry from the shining city on the hill. Try crafting better words instead of better scams.”
Turning to the left, angry words following him like the stench of propellant, Jacques chastised himself for bristling like this. This man was a victim of the system as much as anyone else here, kept down by the ones on top who made and dictated what was “art” at the same time. They cemented their control with the vague promise that one day, the talentless Hacks too might have a breakthrough with their feeble attempts at writing, painting, sculpture, and earn recognition as one of the greats, and afford a house up there. A nice lie made even more obvious by the fact that Jacques knew that he had talent, just in a “wrong” discipline. He passed one of his works, already half painted over, eaten away by urban decay, and smiled a bitter smile. What kind of activist was he, putting down his fellow Hacks while pining after someone with the style and grace of a capital-A Artist?
The bitter thought only made him walk faster towards what he still hoped was a date with said Artist.
“So here’s the plan.”
It wasn’t a date. However, it was also no frank shutdown of Jacques’ affection, so he counted his blessings. And maybe they’d have time to relax together after CR was done being serious.
CR slid a poster printed on glossy paper over the table. It featured a tasteful font, carefully balanced colors, and just the right amount of deliberate imperfections - skewed title, paint splashes - to draw the eye in. GRAND UNVEILING: THE FACELESS ARTIST’S NEWEST MASTERPIECE - AND IDENTITY! it proclaimed. The date was set for the day after tomorrow.
“This is my father’s next vernissage. Everybody who has a name will be there to find out who Faceless is. We will spoil the surprise, ruin the masterpiece, and embarrass the crusty old tyrant.”
Jacques pried his gaze away from CR’s perfectly manicured fingers. “Is this your only reason to crash his party?”
A wry smile. “It plays into the main reason, mon ami. His vapid Artist ‘friends’ love drama, so they’ll listen to every word I say. I’ll present our cause, plead social justice for Hacks, put our group officially on the map. After that, I’ll be disinherited of course.”
“Is that really worth it?”
CR put a hand on Jacques’ shoulder, which caused a pleasant ripple to go through his body. “Jacques, do you know why I wanted to speak with you alone?”
Without waiting for an answer, CR continued. “The others still don’t trust me. They think Claude-René Seurat, spoiled child of renowned Artist Hyacinthe Seurat, just plays at being rebel and will discard the collective once he’s bored of them.”
He put both hands on Jacques’ shoulders and directed a smoldering gaze into his eyes. “You have always seen how little I care for that superficial world of his. With your help, I’ll prove it decisively. Sever my ties to a corrupt upper class. Discard my name, become one of you. A rebel for our just cause!”
Jacques put a hand on one of CR’s and allowed himself a playful smile. “I’ll make a Hack out of you. First, you gotta get rid of your ridiculous clothes.”
CR preened about his suit. “Maybe I’ll let you undress me once we’re done.” A shy smile that made Jacques want to kill giants for him. “But in two days, I’ll have to still pretend that I’m one of them.”
Two days later, Jacques was also dressed in a suit, which was surprisingly comfortable. He hated to admit it, but it also looked kind of nice. CR had paraded him around a barber, a tailor, even a beautician, and the results spoke for themselves. But wasn’t that, again, the point? Everyone should be able to afford to make a work of art out of themselves.
Jacques scanned the crowd at the vernissage. Women in form-enhancing dresses, crowned by impossible hairstyles. Men with suits in all colors and stripes, desperate to stand out while still adhering to a strict code. They all hung onto cocktail and champagne glasses for dear life, filling the room with the drone of vapid conversations like the poorly-ventilated studio Jacques tested his tags in.
“So, what do you work in?”
He startled as the high-pitched voice of the small woman interrupted his thought process. He looked down on puffy hair overflowing with jewelry and fresh flowers.
“…murals. I paint murals.”
“Oooh, that sounds like a lot of work. Who do you pay to actually do it?”
Jacques clutched his glass of warm alcohol. “I, uh, myself?”
Her eyes widened. “Someone with actual talent? In this crowd? Well, that makes two of us! I’m a writer.” She rose up for a conspiratorial whisper. “Of course, I mostly come up with the plots and let someone else do the typing. It’s all good stuff, though. High society Artist finds a disguised Hack in a vernissage, falls in love with his rugged looks, they have a fling, you know.”
Jacques fingered his collar which had suddenly turned rather tight. “That’s rather specific.”
“Isn’t it?” She made a pout meant to be cute.
Jacques realized that before her appearance, he had been standing in a void of people, surrounded by groups of Artists discussing this or that. Of course, he drew attention. He did not belong here, because he did not want to. The suit began to itch from his sweat.
“Relax,” she whispered, and gave him a wicked smile. “Claude-René asked me to tell you that his father is about to make his speech. I’ll distract this fop, you get going.”
She turned to a lanky dandy leaning next to a door. “Oh, it’s great I meet you!” She said, sweeping him away. “Didn’t you want to tell me about your atelier of copy-makers…?”
With a heavy sigh of relief, Jacques slipped through the door using the key CR had given him, found the flight of stairs as directed, and made his way up to the rafters supporting the spotlights for the later reveal of Faceless Artist’s identity. For now, they were trained on the centerpiece of the exhibition, the masterpiece: a giant blank canvas. Faceless like the artist, symbolic pretension.
Jacques found everything ready: his harness he used for adorning bridges, and the instrument they’d paint their message with: a gun, fat shells, double-barreled, blanks filled with paint. He began fastening the harness to the walkway; on the stage, CR’s father had already begun prattling on about the beauty in what cannot be seen. With the paint gun, Jacques would paint Hyacinthe Seurat’s silhouette on the masterpiece, and slip away while the disgraced son gave his passionate speech.
Used to working quickly between train passes, Jacques ratcheted down in record speech. The room fell silent around him as he readied the gun. He stared in the old Artist’s frightened eyes, so close to his son’s that never failed to pierce Jacques’ soul. Squinting to banish the image, Jacques pulled the trigger. A bang. Recoil sending him spinning. Many-throated scream. He opened his eyes again.
The canvas was stained only one color: red.
While Jacques stared uncomprehending at what his decidedly-not-blanks had done to CR’s father, someone walked on stage. Dressed entirely in white, with a blank mask: the faceless artist. Spotlights focused on him.
“Our life is a blank canvas,” he proclaimed in a painfully familiar voice sounding like a fork on porcelain in Jacques’ ringing ears. “It is nothing until we paint it with our sacrifices.”
He locked his arms behind his back. “My first artistic efforts were dismissed by critics, claiming that I was expecting recognition because of my heritage. So I discarded my name! Now, with my final masterpiece as the Faceless Artist, I can step out of the shadow of my father, and reclaim it.”
He removed the mask in a grand gesture. “I’m Claude-René Seurat!” He pointed at the horrid stains. “Behold my work: I call it Inheritance!”
“You used me,” Jacques voiced tonelessly. His heart felt empty like the canvas had been.
CR’s smile pierced right through it. “This member of a terrorist collective helped realize my bold vision, for which I’m eternally grateful.”
His expression darkened. “Of course, he still murdered my father. Justice will be served.”
CR stepped closer to the limply hanging Jacques, grabbed his shoulder and drew him close. “You should have listened to the others, mon ami.”
The jewel-haired woman from before suddenly appeared next to the pair, took away the gun and handed each of them a champagne flute. Jacques took it with numb fingers and mind.
“I’m truly grateful, though.” CR clinked the glasses together. “That’s why I paid for the fastest-acting poison I could find. Santé!”
Jacques stared at the still achingly beautiful face of his former friend. Finally, he found an emotion inside him. His lips curled up, exposing teeth.
“I know I won’t find justice,” he said. “But I can at least help you paint another canvas.”
He smashed the glass in CR’s face, staining the white suit red as well.
|# ? May 16, 2021 21:25|
The megastructure at once awed and terrified for its sheer scale.
Six centuries prior, humanity's last and greatest diaspora passed through the Middle Layers and into the Upper Regions, leaving many thousands of stragglers behind as it penetrated through strata after unending strata of the monolith that devoured the Earth in a time beyond knowing. The survivors, abandoned to their fates by what remained of their species, coalesced into nomadic clans and wandered their lot. In time, their territories became more or less delineated, although even this far above the chaos of the lower levels, entire strata often shifted and disappeared, or entire networks of passageways were abruptly sealed by the reparative automata that had become the lone companion of humanity in the world... unless one were to listen to the rumors that something had befallen the humans of the Upper Regions, that is.
For two of these groups to encounter each other on the same stratum was an odd occasion indeed, and rarely for anything other than trade, or less happily war in times of scarcity. Besides the Great Calamity, only twice in the recorded history of the Middle Layers had three clans banded together: once to establish the ancient hub where they once gathered, and another time to slaughter a clan fallen into frenzy and madness. Both were legends, the first heartwarming and the second the terrible sort of story told to frighten children into discipline, though that clan was nothing more than a memory of what came before, and below.
So when the last of the great hub clans called for a meeting of not three but five tribes, the Middle Layers buzzed with anxious tension at what could justify it. Even the gathering place was significant: a void in the middle of three strata, one of many such anomalies in the megastructure - a failure in its own natural cell division, unrepaired by the automata. The scaffolding of the cell's cytoarchitecture remained: iron filaments crisscrossing the wall of one cell to the next through the gap, bridges across a two kilometer span of darkness, and these became their court during their aborted attempt at civilization. The place lay untouched through the intervening centuries, gleaming steel as pristine as the day of their discovery. Four of the clans waited already at the center of the empty chamber, among them Sil-K1 and others from Stratum 8K113. After exchanging the customary greetings and briefly discussing the situations of one another's people, they fell back into silence.
Besides the hub clan, whose representatives had yet to arrive, Sil-K1's tribe made its territory in local strata within fifteen levels from the gap juncture; another was a week's journey away, perhaps forty strata, but two others had come from much farther... a thousand strata or more...
... Sil-K1's kin recalled the Great Calamity. Every child had seen footage of the vessels departing on their pilgrimage to the Upper Regions, the fifty-three captured seconds of space ripping open like a door to heaven, of an angel reaching out, then light -- and the megastructure had shifted, the passageways were sealed...
The last tribe arrived. Their emissaries lit their way by the glowing circuits tattooed into their flesh and their artificial eyes, photoreceptors smoldering in the dark. These oddities, their corpse-like pallor, and their proportions, a median height of two meters with long, spindly limbs, marked their changes from the humans of before. After they too greeted their neighbors, one of them stepped forward, a being whose expression was caught between great weariness and boredom. Its gender, if it possessed one, was inscrutable from its face alone, though its features were very beautiful. When it spoke, it was in an archaic pidgin that all their tribes had used when trade between them was more frequent.
"Siblings, we have called you here to discuss a matter worth knowing. Though it pleases us that so many answered our summoning, others were called as well who did not arrive. Some of these were predicted. Other groups refused association out of fear of a reoccurrence of the tragedy of year four hundred ninety-three, and two we were unable to locate via extrapolation from previous data. Their current situation is unknown. We call you here to discuss the remarkable discovery of one of the groups that has come, and would request now that they present their findings."
At this, the representatives from Stratum 8K113 stirred. Sil-K1 stepped forward. His body had been heavily altered, equipped with a variety of augmentations to facilitate the journey between strata, his eyes hidden behind the visor of the helmet sheathing his skull, the back of which terminated in a cluster of cables deriving to Sil-K1's extremities, neuromodulators regulating the extensive wetware modifications to his metabolism.
He began, "I am Sil-K1 of Stratum 8K113. Those of other strata indulge curiosity about heaven. We of Stratum 8K113 delve into the forge levels. I've seen what lies below, as deep as any of us have gone, witnessed strata picked clean by automata. Our eventual fate to renew the megastructure's continued expansion, if our hypotheses prove correct."
Menus flickered over the surface of his visor for an instant and a panel lifted on Sil-K1's prosthetic wrist.
"Recently, we've uncovered an anomaly. I developed this model myself."
A projector beamed a holographic image onto the void as if it were a screen. Details resolved from a mist of voxels: a solitary pillar rising high in a void like the one at the cell gap where they gathered. Diagrams floated into view, indicating that the material of its construction shifted along a gradient from typical materials to unidentified organic molecules, some recognizable from agricultural data but many unknown. Atop the cylinder, which rose from the deep abyss below the Middle Layers, photosynthetic lifeforms they had never encountered before were anchored by root systems into the soil. Every variable was perfectly calculated to sustain their survival, but only just. Besides these unencountered organisms, there was also a structure of clearly intentional design, by primitive but remarkably functional techniques that no tribe possessed.
After summarizing what objective conclusions they had reached regarding the anomaly, Sil-K1 finished, "We have not yet entered the structure, fearing we might disturb an unsustainable environment we do not understand and precipitate the collapse of its microecosystem. Therefore, we have brought our findings here, so that we might collectively prepare a group to enter and plunder whatever secrets of the past the anomaly might hold."
"Can you imagine the significance of this place to the ancients? It must have been a temple to them."
Though its enthusiasm seemed genuine enough, their companions from a thousand strata away unsettled Sil-K1. Its appearance was clearly engineered to resemble a baseline human female, down to the precise cocktail of pheromones and other secretions composing its passive scent. Yet even to Sil-K1's humble instruments, the design was uncannily perfect, every vital sign carefully regulated. Given its impeccable condition, Sil-K1 suspected all of its organs were synthetic, probably replaced on a regular basis as they began to naturally degrade. He could tell from the subcutaneous scar tissue and extensive restructuring to its central nervous and endocrine systems that there was no reason to suspect its current shape was the one it had always taken. When they showed themselves at the assembly, the clansmen unfamiliar with their tribe gawked at their appearance, for the humans of yesteryear had been utterly unadapted to life in the megastructure. To deliberately take their shape, to sustain it at all costs, to maintain the illusion of youth and beauty... the cost in resources must be staggering. Sil-K1 found it disgusting for its sheer inefficiency, as much as for the moral quandaries present in such erratic behavior.
"Think!" she cried, voice heavy with enthusiasm. "Look at how they hoarded it! Knowledge must have been their god."
She rested her hand on one of the slender marble pillars on the landing outside the library entrance, gesturing with the other past the open doors, towards row after row of tightly packed bookcases. Such relics were vanishingly rare in the Middle Layers and anywhere else, painstakingly passed from generation to generation; at least one copy of the Bible and the Quran still circulated here or there, but they'd practically uncovered an Akashic record. Translation was ongoing, but the knowledge they'd already uncovered was humbling in how greatly it expanded their understanding of what came before, and below. Even the stoic Sil-K1 felt ecstatic when he thought about it, though he was unconvinced of any practical applications: to think, the ancients would spend so many hundreds of thousands of words writing stories about things that never happened at all! No, he found the anomaly itself a detail beside the extraordinary circumstance of its existence. When his thoughts wandered there, his blood turned to ice...
An impossible structure, placed with obvious intent, sustained by a subsystem of the megastructure itself... judged beside what had become of humanity, even the most grounded explanations were utterly terrifying in their implications... and if not a fate of their own design, what else but divine punishment?
"I would hazard no hypothesis as to the temperaments of the ancients," Sil-K1 said in his own dialect, one by which they begrudgingly understood each other. "It is beyond us to know their minds. But I would know what placed this here..."
The woman's eyes brightened even further. "Yes, yes! Imagine what it would mean, if the megastructure gave this to us. This could be our key to understanding the purpose of it all." Somehow she sensed his apprehension; he could see it in her eyes, for she made no effort to conceal any element of her body language. He saw amusement there too. "Ah... Not all the clans run to tell the others when they've found something interesting, you see, and there are secrets out there that make a thousand strata seem small. Now that I've confirmed your discovery, I'm certain my people will be along to assert their own claim. Your ambitions are wholly inadequate beside the potential this place holds."
Sil-K1 wondered then how so fragile a vessel had come so far through the megastructure. It seemed impossible.
"You forget yourself," he replied roughly. "This is the claim of Stratum 8K113, one we've decided to share with the others in the hopes we might come to better understand ourselves and what came before. Your people would try to possess what belongs to others in another land a thousand strata away?"
For an instant - an instant which lasted precisely three hundred and sixty-one milliseconds, he discovered upon hunting it down relentlessly in the backup visual feed from his helmet - a grotesque expression passed over the woman's face as she regarded him with the disdain she might have for an insect, if she had ever seen one.
Then she smiled at him with the same radiance as before and said, "How did you say it again? Those of other strata indulge their curiosity about heaven. All stiff and serious-like, because of the one failure?"
Sil-K1 realized then that she concealed nothing because she feared nothing - not him, or the thousand strata she had journeyed across to find this place.
"There's no wonder in pondering till we go extinct what became of whatever mankind was before we were trapped in the labyrinth. We climbed the mountain to look a god in the eye and were tossed back down into the abyss." She looked up, through the vaulted glass ceiling of the ancient library, at the sheer walls of the megastructure continuing endlessly beyond them.
"Some of us have found other gods on other mountains."
Sil-K1 was the first to see space rip, open like a god's eye, to see the light--
|# ? May 16, 2021 22:14|
Warp and Weft
1,704 / 1,984 words
Agnes took the soft, slow sigh of the shuttles weaving back and forth across the loom and wove it around herself, masking her footprints as she crept across the floor of the mill, scissors in hand. Eliza followed just behind, braiding shadows and moonlight to hide them both from the miller’s men. Their patrol had been full of ragged holes and easy to pass through, yet neither woman trod easily. The mill had made no small amount of coin weaving a new future for the town, even in the scant weeks it had been running. If they were found cutting their threads free there’d be hell to pay.
The loom was vast and ravenous, devouring the future to spin it anew. A thousand ensorcelled brass arms jerked at the strings of the town’s fate, pulling and plaiting them into sterile new patterns, regimented rows of dull grey that even the untrained, Giftless millworkers could interpret. Prosperity for all. Good harvests each year. Safety from violence and want.
Agnes and Eliza were neither untrained nor Giftless. They had skill and practice at weaving futures, decades of both. They had the wit to pick out the finer details of the weave, the paths of the individual threads that were lost in the grand design. A hundred threads brought prosperity to the town, yet a single thread snatched it all away. The harvest repeated year on year, always the same and always ending up in the miller’s stores. The thick borders of the weave hemmed it in, turning every thread back into the productive whole, making even the broad loom seem narrow.
“This is what they want?” Agnes’s fist clenched tight around the scissor’s handles, steel digging into flesh, and she struggled to contain the bitterness in her voice.
“It’s a solid weave,” Eliza said. “Plenty of it, too.”
“Why bother?” Agnes ran the tip of her scissors lightly over the threads as they passed. “A week’s the same as a year - look, see how it repeats? That’s not living.”
“It’s what people want,” Eliza said. “Certainty. Doesn’t look like it’ll fray, either.”
“They won’t let it fray, you mean.”
“People don’t want it to fray. They never have.”
“I know what people want!” Agnes snapped. “I’ve been weaving their futures for twenty drat years. They want love in a scarf, good health in swaddling clothes, it doesn’t matter - there’s not a fool alive who thought it’d last forever.”
“Because we couldn’t make it last,” Eliza said. She placed a hand on Agnes’s shoulder and when Agnes turned, Eliza’s cheeks ran wet with silent tears. “A few strands here and there, woven together in a kitchen by candlelight - how could it last?”
She stepped closer to the loom, her own scissors in hand, and gestured to the weave. Their threads were plain to see, vibrant and alive in Agnes’s eyes. They’d been so close to start with and now ran far apart, pulled away by magic and brass. Eliza touched her scissors to Agnes’s thread and Agnes felt her future shudder. She braced herself.
Eliza was frozen in the moonlight.
“What happens next?” she whispered. “Once we’re free.”
“We leave,” Agnes said. “We leave and we never look back. I’ve friends in Manchester -”
“There’s a mill going up in Manchester,” Eliza said softly. “Heard it from a coach driver.”
“Sheffield, then,” Agnes said. “Leeds. Anywhere, Liz, anywhere as long as we’re together.”
“And how long until there’s a mill in Sheffield and Leeds and everywhere else?” Eliza drew the blade away from the weave and Agnes’s stomach clenched. “How long until there’s a mill for all of England?”
“Then we’ll cut our way free again,” Agnes said, her pulse quickening. “As many times as it takes, Liz, but we have to do it quickly.”
She moved forwards, raising her scissors, but Eliza stepped into her path and pulled her close. When she spoke, her face buried in Agnes’s shoulder, her voice was muffled by cloth and by fresh tears.
“Then our future’s set regardless,” she said. “They’ll hire more guards, build better locks - one day we won’t be able to cut our threads loose in time.”
“Then there’s fire,” Agnes said, “We can break it all apart, let the whole mill burn.”
Eliza’s sobs turned to choked laughter. “You’d follow after Ned Ludd? Take a hammer to it all?”
“Ned had the right idea.” Agnes pulled back from Eliza slightly, tipped the woman’s chin up to meet her gaze. “He wove his own future. He fought -”
“He died,” Eliza said. The laughter was gone now. “They wove him into their design and broke him on his own spinning wheel. There’s no future we can weave that they can’t unpick. The two of us against that - “ She jerked her head over her shoulder towards the ever-active loom. “- will never be enough.”
“Then we won’t do it alone,” Agnes said. “The town -”
“The town?” Eliza’s tone grew colder still. “The town welcomed the mill in, Agnes. Jobs and prosperity and certainty for all and that’s before it took over their future. You saw the mayor’s thread in there?”
“Aye,” Agnes said. She felt the fire die back down in her chest. “A long life and a large family.”
“Bought and paid for.”
“So what do we do?” Agnes shook her head. “If we can’t run and we can’t fight, what do we do, Liz? Grow old and grey spinning out thankless days for ourselves until the loom crushes us both?”
“I don’t know,” Eliza said. She turned her eyes down and Agnes felt her heart break at the sight and the soft, scared admission.
Agnes watched the bronze arms clatter away, the shuttles pulling the thick thread of the weft back and forth across its width. Each row of pattern laid down secured the future a little tighter, drawing it close over the town. She could feel it in the air, feel the weight of it. Eventually it would grow heavy enough to crush them both.
“We could turn the loom against the mill, then,” Agnes said. Her words were slow and unsteady and she felt Eliza flinch away from them. “Change the pattern, turn the town away and -”
“You’d do that?” Eliza spoke as though from a great distance. “Bind an entire town to your will? Rob them of their futures? Take any choice from them, just to keep us together?”
Agnes felt it then, an unravelling between her and Eliza. The other woman must have felt it too, as her face turned grey and she let out a low, keening cry that cut through the veil of silence around them. Agnes immediately pulled her close, steel scissors clattering to the floor. They wrapped their arms around each other with the desperation of drowning women but the distance remained.
The weight of the loom’s weave settled heavier and heavier.
“Do we have a choice?” Agnes pushed back against the future with a focus of will, drawing Eliza’s thread to her.
“I don’t know,” Eliza gasped through blubbering tears. “That’s all I ever wanted. I just wanted to be able to choose you. I never wove my own future, I didn’t care, just as long as you didn’t leave.”
“Never,” Agnes said.
She looked back to the loom. A thousand threads pulled tight together, secure against fraying as each thread reinforced the next. Regimented. Ordered. There was so much that they could do together - so much she could bring to being, with the loom’s help. If the town just did what she wanted -
She felt Eliza’s thread draw further away. That wasn’t a future she cared to weave - and if she couldn’t weave that future for them, then there was no future she could weave. And if there there was no future they could weave -
“Hey,” she said softly. She let go, stooping to pick up the scissors from the floor. Eliza looked at her, uncertain.
“Help me with this,” Agnes said. Eliza shied away but Agnes reached out, placed a palm on her shoulder, and smiled. It hurt to see Eliza hesitate but slowly she relented, following as Agnes turned to the loom once more. Before Eliza could stop her - before Agnes could stop herself - she cut the closest thread free from the loom. Then the next. And the next. Eliza joined in, the snip of the scissors joining the shuttles and the brass arms, the cut threads dangling and dancing below them, the future unspooling.
“They’ll just start again,” Eliza said when they were done. The row of threads hung loose across the loom.
“They’ll have to wait for us to finish, first,” Agnes said. She reached for her thread and Eliza’s and pulled them together, shivering with the sensation of it. The braid she used was the simplest she knew, tying the two into a single strand, joined in fate but without order or pattern; she laid out no future except togetherness.
“They can pick the two of us apart,” Eliza said, but Agnes felt the strength in her voice and watched as Eliza drew another thread and then another, picking up on her intentions with the easy familiarity of a decade together.
Together, the two women wove thread after thread together, braiding them around the core of their own two threads. The future grew, bulky and strong and formless, the town’s future drawn together and then left without purpose or design. Each thread strengthened its neighbours and its neighbours’ neighbours and by the time they were done, Agnes would have struggled to see where her own work ended and Eliza’s began. Now the loom sagged under the weight of the future that it still spun out, brass arms tugging in vain and making tortured squealing sounds.
The two women sat in the dark of the mill and watched the future churn on, unknowable in its formless potential. When the miller arrived in the morning to inspect their prized possession, they would find a loom cracked and broken by the braided rope of the town’s destiny, a thousand lives united in formless potential that would continue to spool and spool beyond the mill’s control.
And at its core, two vibrant threads coiled around one another, forever.
|# ? May 16, 2021 22:21|
Dig Deep For Victory
Sailor Viy fucked around with this message at 05:26 on Oct 30, 2021
|# ? May 17, 2021 03:55|
Welcome Friends Open
1799 words, cuddlepunk
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 14:38 on Jan 10, 2022
|# ? May 17, 2021 04:10|
In the darkness, the end-of-shift bell tolled. Neve followed the bobbing headlights of the other miners back towards the surface portal, wiping sweat from her forehead. They had to wait for the mages to levitate the day’s haul into the portal with maddening ease before heading to the surface themselves. Of course, management considered mages too valuable to extract the ore in the first place, so Neve and her fellow commoners did the difficult, dangerous work manually. She stepped through the surface portal and took a welcome breath of fresh mountain air. The best part of her workday was leaving to go back home to her husband.
However, today the city portals were unlit and a nervous crowd of commoners milled about outside them. Neve worked her way through until she spotted a knot of friends.
"The foreman won't let anyone through," Eoin said.
"He better not be announcing another pay freeze, we’ll go on strike again," Liam grumbled.
“drat right,” Cara said.
Neve tried to voice her support, but no sound came out. The foreman had cast a silencing spell on the crowd, one of his favorite tricks. He brought his hands to his mouth and spoke, his voice magically amplified.
"Attention employees of Thauma Mining Company. Due to a recent mana-saving exercise, in a month we will be limiting city portal usage to three hours a week. As a result, all employees will be relocated to onsite housing and city excursions will be monitored. Note that these restrictions do not apply to the mage-surveyors, though you will need to power the portals yourselves."
The crowd soundlessly mouthed their objections, but thanks to the silence, the foreman continued detailing the relocation plan uninterrupted. Neve had heard enough, though. Her husband Aran worked in the city, in Thauma's head office in fact, and the thought of only seeing him once a week was intolerable.
Finally the foreman finished. Telling them to have a blessed evening, he lifted the silence and opened the portals. The crowd surged. Neve and her friends were carried along and through the portals, complaining all the way. They spilled out of the portal station and into the city, scattering down the narrow streets of the commoner quarter. Above them, mages flew by in sleek pods on their way out to their glass-clad mansions. Neve saw the foreman zoom off in a sporty red pod and fantasized about blasting it out of the sky. She brooded on the news during her long walk back to their small tenement apartment.
Aran gathered her into a hug the moment she walked in the door.
"Am I that easy to read?" she asked, wiping her eyes.
"Yes, but … I knew this was coming. The Directrix was quite excited to cut the portal mana usage by 27%."
Of course he'd known. Aran was an assistant to the Directrix herself. Though he was a commoner too, he had a keen mathematical ability that made him more valuable than a miner like Neve. However, the Directrix had her ways of knowing if Aran told her the news early. He still bore scars from when he’d warned Neve of impending layoffs. She and her friends had managed to save their jobs then, but this relocation was a much bigger problem.
"What will we do?" Neve sobbed. Aran just held her in response, until he suddenly disappeared. The Directrix had summoned him for some after hours task, leaving Neve holding nothing but air. She was used to such interruptions but she still cursed the Directrix, wishing that her words had magic behind them.
The next few weeks in the mine were grim. The relocation dominated all conversations as, like Neve, most people faced separation from their loved ones. The foreman finally called in specialists from the head office to curse the topic, making it impossible to talk about while on company property. However, discussions in the city only intensified.
"We’ve looked at it from every angle," Neve said over her beer. "I just can’t see a way to force them to change their mind. We may have to relocate, then figure out how to escape back to the city."
Liam and Eoin raised their glasses, but Cara hesitated.
"What if there's something we can do?" She leaned in. "Remember the protests at the smelting company last autumn?"
“Yeah, assassinating the Director threw the company into such disarray that the plans were halted,” Eoin said. The news of commoners outmaneuvering mages had captivated the miners for weeks.
“Don’t even think about it, Aran’s told me how powerful she is,” Neve warned.
Cara said, "So are all of the Directors. But I found out how they did it: they had a weapon." She set a long, nondescript bag on the table. "It's called a gun. A blacksmith invented it." Her eyes sparkled. “A commoner.”
Never peeked inside. "How does it work?"
"It fires a projectile that rips straight through people. And, I'm told, it’s too fast for mages to react to. The downside is that it takes a minute to reload, and that's if the mages you’re shooting leave you alone."
Still, Neve was awed. Never before had commoners had a tool that could match the power of a mage. "We do the same thing, then," she said. "We kill the Directrix. The company will stop the relocation to deal with it and it’ll force the mages to take us seriously." As a bonus, Aran might get a better boss.
They spent the next three days preparing. From the mountain, they smuggled equipment– pickaxes enchanted to smash rock in one hit, unbreakable drills powered by mana batteries, and good old-fashioned explosives– through the city portals. With all the new construction at the mining camp, none of the mages noticed a few tools missing. In the evenings, Neve talked endlessly with Aran about the details of the head office. The night before the relocation arrived too quickly. Neve kissed Aran goodbye before she left, loaded gun in hand.
The group rendezvoused outside the Thauma Mining offices. All wore black and determined expressions. Taking a deep breath, Neve lit the explosives next to the complex's wall. They ran behind a pod as the dynamite shattered the stone, reinforcement spells overwhelmed. Neve led the charge inside, knocking down a dazed guard who stumbled out from the wreckage. Liam finished him off with a crunch from his pickaxe. Neve paused, stunned by the fact that they’d just killed a mage, and that it was easy. Liam pulled her along. “Them or us,” he said.
Neve led them to the building that, according to Aran, housed the Directrix's office. He'd assured her that the Directrix was working late, and sure enough, the top floor glowed with magelight. Eoin brought out the drill: as was typical, the front door lock was impervious to magic but not brute force, and the diamond-tipped drill made short work of the seal.
They burst into the lobby and found themselves face-to-face with two surprised guards. The mages raised their hands and Neve threw herself to the side, narrowly avoiding a jet of fire. Cara crouched next to her, covering them both with her mining blast shield. Fire engulfed them but the shield did its job. A scream echoed and abruptly the firestorm ended. Neve and Cara rose to see one guard bleeding out on the floor, his throat slashed by Eoin, who stood behind him breathing heavily. The other guard had a pickaxe buried in his skull, but Liam was dead in front of him, body blackened from the flames. Cara clung to Neve. "Those bastards," she hissed.
Neve wanted to scream or cry, but made herself say, "We've got to move on." They had a job to do. Cara visibly pulled herself together and hefted the pickaxe. Eoin, his eyes full of tears, followed them deeper into the building. They heard more guards shouting in the building’s central shaft that mages used to levitate between floors, but with typical arrogance none thought to check the hidden commoner staircase that Neve and her friends now climbed.
In addition to the staircase, Aran had also told them about the Directrix’s specialist guards on the top level. Their welding goggles protected them from the guards’ blinding light spell and allowed them to go on the offensive. Eoin darted forward and stabbed one guard in the side before she waved a hand, throwing him down the hallway. Cara swung the pickaxe at the guards’ hands as they scrambled to cast another spell. "Go!" she yelled.
Neve would never get a better chance. She ran down the hallway, hunting for the patterned door that marked the Directrix's office. Once there, she pulled out Aran's talisman key, kissed it for luck, slapped it on the locking seal and kicked in the door. She swept the gun up to point at the Directrix, who stood in front of her desk. "Don't move your hands, or I'll kill you!" Neve said, trying to keep her voice steady. The Directrix was the most powerful mage she’d seen and her office was no less impressive. It gleamed with marble, obsidian, and mahogany, shaped into impossible designs. An ornate portal hummed in the corner.
The Directrix seemed unperturbed. "An unexpected visitor. I suppose you want something?"
Neve should fire, but a part of her hesitated to kill another human being in cold blood. "I want you to stop the relocation to High Mountain,” she said instead. “I want you to stop treating commoners like animals. But I know you won’t, so I’m going to continue what the Smelters started."
The Directrix looked at the weapon. It was the first time Neve had seen a mage look wary. "So that's the famous gun. You know they killed him and the company gave in to their demands, but do you know what happened to the commoners who shot him?" She didn't wait for a response. "They were, or should say are, being slowly vivisected. Fresh body parts are quite magically potent."
Neve shuddered involuntarily, but she didn't back down. The freedom of her fellow miners depended on her. "I'm not going to be exiled to the mountain without a fight. You mages take and take, paying us a pittance to dig stones out of the ground, breaking our backs hauling rocks a mage child could easily move." Her voice rose uncontrollably. "And for what? Marble to shape into lewd statues? Gems to amplify your already incredible power? Closing the portals will only save you 27% in mana but costs us commoners the dignity of having a life outside of servitude."
The Directrix’s eyes glinted. “Ah, you must be Aran’s wife. What clever commoners you both are.”
She’d said too much, now Aran was implicated. Her need to protect him outweighed her hesitancy to take a life. Neve braced the gun against her shoulder. In the split second before she pulled the trigger, the Directrix snapped her fingers.
It was a small mercy that Aran appeared facing the Directrix. He didn’t have to see Neve fire the shot that punched through him. Neve screamed, a wordless, primal howl of anguish, and rushed to his side. He lived long enough to see her face again and he smiled. “The bitch is dead,” he breathed. Neve hugged his lifeless body, ignoring the Directrix’s blood pooling around her feet.
Uncounted minutes passed before she heard pounding on the door. Neve shook off her numbness. As much as she wanted to join Aran in the afterlife, she couldn’t give Thauma Mining Company the satisfaction of capturing her, not after all of this. As she methodically reloaded the gun, she realized she had to live, for him. For Cara and Liam, who could still be alive. For the miners, for the commoners. There was nothing stopping her now. She faced the humming portal, then leapt through.
|# ? May 17, 2021 05:13|
the future is closer than you think
flerp fucked around with this message at 20:40 on Jul 5, 2021
|# ? May 17, 2021 05:13|
It was the second summer after the Nazis came to Belgium, and Grand-mère was knitting socks again.
“You can say a lot through knitting, Marcel,” my grandmother said from her usual spot near the mantle, hunched over her work, scrutinizing it – she was near-sighted – “Things like ‘I love you,’ or ‘don’t give up.’”
“Mmm,” I glared out the farmhouse window, opened against the heat of the day. I thought myself a big strong boy, and I didn’t see what knitting had to do with me. I had more important things to worry about.
“Since whatever’s out there is so much more interesting than what your grand-mère has to say, then describe it to me.”
I rolled my eyes, but obliged her. “The sun is high, and the wheat’s coming up. There’s a little brown bird taking a dirt bath by the field. A train’s coming up the tracks.”
“Oh?” The tic-tic-tic of her wooden needles was a counterpoint to the churning of nearby wheels. “What sort of train?”
“It’s a troop transport. More Germans are coming.”
“Ah. Can you tell me the time, Marcel? There’s a good boy.”
“The clock says 2:07.” I turned back to the train, watching the tanned, angular faces of the soldiers flash past. “I wish I had a bomb, so I could kill those boches right now!”
Grand-mère crossed the room with a speed that belied her age and slammed the window with a clatter. “Boy, don’t you have any sense?,” she hissed, shaking me by the shoulders. “How many times must I tell you: you never know who might be listening! Don’t you remember what happened to your mother and father?”
“I remember better than you do!” I fired back with the righteous anger only a young child could muster. “You don’t care about Maman or Papa! You only care about your rosaries and your socks, and bossing me around! You never even talk about them anymore, not after those men took them away for striking – except to scold me!” I could feel the hot tears starting in my eyes, but kept going: “Don’t you hate the Germans too? Don’t you want revenge? They took your own daughter away! They –”
“Stop.” Grand-mère wiped the tears from my face with a calloused thumb, though her own tears were falling. “I can’t protect your parents anymore. But I can protect you. Even if it means protecting you from yourself. I don’t want to hear any more talk about hating the Germans, do you understand? I can’t lose you, too. I have to look out for you no matter what.”
I said nothing, only wiped my runny nose. We didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the day; the silence only broken by the familiar tic-tic-tic of Grand-mère knitting.
“Zut!” Grand-mère swore as she gathered up the scattered, now-finished socks that had spilled from her handbag. I lingered on the stairs, pretending not to see: Grand-mère always got angry when someone noticed her making a mistake. “Alright, quit dawdling!” she said affectionately, tucking the last sock deep in her bag. “We have lots of houses to visit!”
“Shouldn’t we be giving these socks away in the fall?” I slipped my hand into Grand-mère’s. “It’s still so hot out! All the poor people would just about die if they tried wearing these now!”
“Now is exactly the right time to give out woolens,” she said, a little too smoothly. “This way the poor will have these socks even if there’s a sudden cold snap. Besides, cold weather is bad for my arthritis.”
I shrugged. When you’re a child, adults are always doing strange-seeming things around you, and they don’t always have the patience to explain themselves. There wasn’t a point in questioning Grand-mère now. “Then let’s get going.” Grand-mère simply smiled, leading me out the door.
The dirt road by the tracks ran a short ways to the cobbles of St. Louvain. Those days were hard on all of us because of the shortages, but the villagers always had a smile for me and Grand-mère. The Germans monitoring the town square were, as usual, mostly aloof towards us Belgians – save one soldier.
“Vos papiers, s’il vous plait?” The private who stopped us could have walked off a Nazi propaganda poster: tall, well-built, sandy-blond hair, a healthy tan, a one-thousand watt smile. Soldat Weber never knew how I loathed him. I don’t think he knew much of anything, really.
“Your accent is getting much better!” Grand-mère simpered. She dutifully got our papers out of her bag for him. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Is that knitting?” Weber’s big stupid cow eyes mooned over the socks. “My own dear mother used to knit! May I see?”
“Of course,” she said. Only I noticed the nervous expression that darted across her face, gone as soon as it appeared. “These are for all the poor people in town, for the winter.”
“Ah,” Weber took a sock in his great meaty hands, stretching it out and holding it up to the light. “I see you’ve dropped a lot of stitches on this one! You had better fix that, or the whole thing could unravel.”
“Oh, thank you so much for the kind advice!” I started, surprised. Weber had corrected Grand-mère – about something she already understood perfectly, no less – yet there wasn’t a trace of anger on her face. “I’m so far-sighted, you see. I shall have to fix it right away, won’t I, Marcel?”
I didn’t answer, staring at the cobbles and silently wishing death on Weber. He clapped me on the shoulder, told me to be a good boy, waved his goodbye, then rejoined his comrades in the square. “I hate you,” I whispered at his retreating back.
“Enough,” Grand-mère spat, yanking me out of the square. “Remember what we talked about.”
We continued with our deliveries, even though Grand-mère hadn’t fixed the socks as she told Weber she would. The charity cases accepting the socks were a curious bunch: a woman with an eyepatch who ducked back into the alley she was lurking in, a dark-skinned fellow who wore a coat despite the weather, a one-legged man sitting at a café who took a pair with a lopsided grin and a tip of his crutch. I couldn’t restrain my curiosity at that last one: “Grand-mère, shouldn’t he only get one sock? He only has one foot.”
“Marcel, it’s ill-bred to point out such things!” Grand-mère gripped my hand far harder than necessary. “We’ll talk about your behavior when we get home. Now tell the nice man you’re sorry.” I stammered out an apology to the one-legged man, who merely smiled and patted me on the head. Then I walked home in silence with Grand-mère, thoughts of the strange day still swirling in my mind.
Next week, on another sweltering afternoon, I was helping Grand-mère wind a ball of yarn when the chugging of a train was silenced by a boom and a screech. I threw down the yarn and ran to the window. Not fifty yards from our house, flames bit at the wreckage of a troop transport, strewn with dead and dying men. Screams, groans, sobs rent the air. Through the smoke, I spotted a one-legged figure, hobbling away on a crutch.
“Grand-mère!” I wheeled on her, sitting in her usual spot, as calm as if she were sitting in the pew in church. “You knew about the explosion. You knew that was going to happen.”
“Shut the window.” I obeyed, and rushed to her. “It’s true, Marcel. I’m gathering information for the Resistance. I had to do something after –” she cradled my hand in hers – “I had to do something."
“All those people we met the other day were in the Resistance, then – including that one-legged man! I saw him running away from the explosion.”
“Yes, it sounds like Monsieur Goffin succeeded in planting the bomb. You needn’t be afraid for him: the others will take him far away.”
“But what did you tell them? How did you do it? I didn’t see any notes. Don’t spies use coded messages?”
“They do.” Grand-mère gave me a secretive smile. “You can say a lot through knitting, Marcel. Like ‘I love you,’ or ‘don’t give up,’ or ‘The troop transports arrive at these specific times.’”
“So that’s why you gave Monsieur Goffin two socks – and why you gave everyone socks you knew weren’t any good. You did it on purpose!”
“Of course. Your Grand-mère never makes mistakes.”
“Grand-mère – those things I said the other day – About Maman and Papa – you know I’m –”
“You needn’t say anything, darling.” She planted a paper-thin kiss on my forehead. “We look out for each other no matter what.”
“Then, Grand-mère…will you teach me to knit? I promise I’ll be good, and careful, and protect myself, and –”
“Save some of that energy for your lessons, Marcel! Now, you need to start by casting on….”
|# ? May 17, 2021 05:46|
Slamming open the door the workshop in the back room of the appliance store, Clyde dropped his satchel onto the workbench. He had less time than usual, the spirit engine on his usual bus had balked at the rainy weather, and the driver had spent a half hour swearing at it before a Warden finally showed up to convince it to get moving again, and Clyde was itching to get started.
There were rules to how a spirit could be treated, the Spirit Council saw to that. Research into how to improve cages was closely regulated, and even maintenance had to take place in a licensed workshop.
Spirits were aware that they had once been alive, and they could experience physical sensations almost like a living human could. They never remembered their original identities and no permanent harm could be done to them short of complete destruction, but even so there was a decade of protests and demonstrations before their use as an energy source was finally approved.
The final decision to allow the use of spirits in engines had rested almost entirely on the very first spirit ever captured. Bruce Johnson had trapped his recently deceased neighbor George Cunningham’s spirit in a steel cage built in a particular geometric pattern and connected it to a telegraph. George had been a telegraph operator before he died and had been able to communicate with Bruce. George’s testimony about what he could experience and remember had been the bedrock of any development related to spirit engines from then on. The most vital parts of his testimony were that he could feel the environment surrounding his cage even if it couldn’t hurt him, and that he had enough recollection of skills he had in life to be able to communicate. Anything personal was lost to him, which most researchers considered a boon now that they had proof of an afterlife. All of this would have been for nothing if Bruce hadn’t forgotten to connect the batteries to the telegraph one day, showing that the spirit could generate electricity as long as it wanted to.
The downside to spirit engine use was that they were temperamental at the best of times. Everyone had a story about being stranded in their car in bad weather because the spirit didn’t want to do keep going. So many advances were held up by the lack of a reliable power source. Clyde was enthralled with the magazine articles about flying machines that would carry people through the air at hundreds of miles per hour, and maybe one day even take someone like him to other planets. It wasn’t possible with an engine that could decide it was too windy or too cold, but that’s what Clyde was so excited about., he had discovered a way to trick the spirit’s about their surroundings.
Up until now, no matter how it was insulated a spirit could reliably tell what the environment around it was like. What was happening was well understood, though why it happened was not. Put simply, a spirit knew and experienced the conditions around it’s cage, and anything connected to the box holding it became part of the cage. Even something as simple as a stick duct taped to a cage and dipped in water made the spirit feel wet. At this point most people had given up on trying to build a cage so that a spirit would only experience comfortable conditions and just had to convince the spirit to keep doing what you wanted.
That’s where Clyde knew he could change things. He could get the spirits to be more reliable and useful than ever, as long as he was careful. Clyde knew that he could get a flying machine running if he could create a reliable engine This dead end job he worked had given him the idea and the first test to show it could be done.
Clyde worked the repairs desk, dealing with pissed off people who never took five minutes to adjust their cages. Half the time they’d left a cage somewhere it could get cold and just didn’t want to warm it up. They were designed to be easy to remove and placed somewhere warm and dry so the spirit would start working again but no one wanted to do something that simple. They just wanted someone to take out their frustrations on.
One boring day, a woman had brought in a cage that she said wouldn’t reset. She bitched so much and so long that finally Clyde’s manager Jean just gave her a new one. Store policy was to write off the spirit engines that wouldn’t reset and humanely destroy them, but Jean said Clyde could mess with it for a couple of days just to see if he could get it running.
Before his next shift, Clyde was examining the cage in the back room and noticed some odd damage to the cage. It happened from time to time, where a few dents in the sides of cage disrupted the geometric symmetry and prevented any energy from being extracted. This cage, however, didn’t appear to be damaged. Cages conformed to a complicated spiral similar to a Moebius strip, but this cage had some dents near each end. Normally he would have tossed it at this point, but once he had warmed up the cage it still generated power. Some careful measuring showed Clyde that the dents were symmetrical and weren’t like anything he’d seen before. The geometry of cages was well known, and some modifications increased energy production, but this one didn’t fit the patterns he knew.
After a deep dive into the repair manuals and his geometry textbooks, Clyde realized that if he tuned the cage’s settings, he could get more power than even the best cages he’d seen. Before his next shift, he connected the power couplings and adjusted the settings. When he saw the power generated, he gave a little “Woo!” and pumped his fists in the air but bumped the table and knocked the cage into his coffee. The dark liquid spilled on the cage, and with a muffled curse he went to wipe it off so he could double check the numbers but stopped before he did. A wet spirit cage for appliances never worked long, and even if it did keep going it’s power production dropped noticeably. This one stayed constant, but his boss walked in and told him to clock in early. The repair line was longer than usual and he needed an extra hand.
Clyde survived the longest shift of his life, spent a sleepless night tossing and turning and showed up at the appliance shop as soon as it opened. He spent most of the morning double checking his measurements and making sure the connections were waterproof. He turned everything on and set the cage in the bowl he’d brought from home and filled with water. The power meter stayed constant, and he headed off to his shift happier than he’d ever been.
|# ? May 17, 2021 06:18|
Cinderella...but with swords
(not quite 1984 words)
So here’s the thing: this is a Cinderella story, except a little different, and a lot cooler. First, because it happened to me, and second, because there are way more swords involved, and let’s be honest: swords loving rule.
So instead of boring you with all the parts you already know, I’m just going to tell you the different bits.
1) Cinderella: It’s a stupid name. My name is Lucinda, which is moderately better, and I go by Luce, which is considerably better, and I don’t like the nickname Cindy, please don’t use it.
2) Sweeping or whatever dumb poo poo she does: No. I work in my Dad’s factory, Lothian Smithy. It’s the biggest magical sword factory in the entire city, and seeing as like 80% of the poo poo you own is powered by magical swords, that’s kind of a big deal. Hell, the factory itself is powered by magical swords. Just like, hundreds of flaming swords in the basement heating up water for steam, and wind swords blowing across ice swords to cool down metal, and levitation swords carrying parts up and down between levels, and a billion other swords doing things you can’t even imagine.
It’s amazing, it’s beautiful, I love it, and it should be mine.
Instead my stepmother Morgause runs it.
Speaking of stepmothers, is Morgause evil? No. More like Really Evil, or even Really REALLY Evil. She runs the thing like a sweatshop (literally flaming swords, remember), and I’m not even at the bottom of the food chain. That’s because she knows I know my swords, and she loves money more than she hates me.
So I get to go through all the rejected swords and figure out how to recycle them. It’s actually pretty great. I do get all covered in dirt and oil, though, so that part is pretty close to the original?
3) Two evil stepsisters: I wish. Instead, I’ve got four stepbrothers of varying levels of evilness and mental stability. Also, who the gently caress can be expected to keep these names straight: Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, and Gareth. Like, yo, there are easily 20 letters of the alphabet you didn’t even use there.
4) A ball? Absolutely not. This story would end here and I would just semi-happily be going through swords in a factory basement forever if the big thing to do was go to a stupid ball and dance with a stupid prince, especially when the prince is — well, I’ll get to that later.
So yeah, not a ball. Instead, Morgause announces this poo poo: Whomsoever of my children defeats the others in combat shall be appointed President and CEO of Lothian Smithy, for life.
And I’m like, oh my god, did she forget she legally adopted me back when she was pretending to be all lovey-dovey-real-mom and also wanted to make sure I didn’t get anything when Dad died? I think she did!!
5) Finding my mom’s wedding dress in the attic: I’m sure my mom had a wedding dress. I mean, I assume she didn’t get married naked or something, but who the gently caress cares about dresses? What I’ve got stashed under my bed in the basement of the factory: Her loving incredibly bad rear end sword. And, now that he’s dead, too, my Dad’s incredibly bad rear end sword. I would much rather have my parents back alive than these swords, but as far as family heirlooms go, these are the best.
Dad’s sword is a fire sword, which is one of the most common types of sword, which is why we use them to run the whole factory, but this one can do mega-flames if you want it to, or just kinda glow warmly if you want it to, like if you are crying yourself to sleep after your dad died and you got kicked out of your bedroom and sent to sleep in a tiny cold damp bedroom in the factory basement. You know, theoretically. And, even cooler than that, it changes shape to be perfect for whoever is wielding it! Badass, right? So when dad had it, it was this big long sword that I probably couldn’t even lift, but when I grab it, it’s all slim and supple and…that sounds weirdly sexual. Also, it shoots fireballs. No Big Deal. (Just kidding, it’s totally rad!)
Mom’s sword is an ice sword, which is probably the second most common type of sword, but instead of just getting cold, which is technically cool, but not like actually cool, it separates into a bunch of smaller ice-blades on a long-rear end whip that will follow your mental commands, holy poo poo, right??? Right.
And I’m going to use them both.
6) That scene where the evil stepsisters rip off all her cool poo poo because they are jealous: Pretty much exactly, but worse.
7) I think this actually deserves a little more explanation.
First it’s three-on-one, not just two-on-one, because Gawain, Agravain, and Gaheris all show up at once. Gareth, you will notice, if you can keep those loving names straight, is absent. Of course, since I’m planning on fighting all four of them at once in the near future, that shouldn’t matter, but I’m also tired from figuring out how to dual wield the two coolest swords ever.
Plus, Gaheris sneaks around behind me with his stupid flying sword that I am definitely not jealous of at all, and kicks me in the back of the head while I’m trying to decide whether or not I should just go ahead and fight Gawain and Agravain right then.
I’m always telling Gareth he can go hang his chivalry, but kicking me in the back of the head is pretty underhanded. I was kind of counting on being the only underhanded one in the melee, to be honest.
8) Cute animal friends: Yeah, no, I don’t have cute animal friends, I have swords. Lots of swords. Remember that bit where I get to go through all the rejected swords? Well I’m not the one who rejected them. So I am absolutely not going to let the fact that not only have I now lost the two most awesome swords ever, but also I am going to have to fight people using the two most awesome swords ever, stop me from winning this fight.
Not when I’ve got swords like:
* An assortment of normal fire and ice swords that work most of the time.
* A sword that screams incessantly when you take it out of its scabbard
* A sword that immediately improves your vocabulary by like a million times
* A sword that is perfect, except that it turns into a shower of cherry blossoms any time it comes into contact with another sword.
* A sword that produces a gentle summer breeze as long as you sing it a bawdy sea shanty
I can totally do this.
9) Gareth: Other than insisting on calling me Cindy, because “Luce” sounds like “loose” and it’s unchivalrous to call a woman “loose,” Gareth is actually pretty alright. That’s why I don’t kill him when I find him standing outside my doorway the day of the tournament.
Or when he tries to convince me not to fight.
Or when he asks me what the hell swords am I carrying.
Or when he asks me what exactly I’m going to do with a sword that just screams or one that just turns into flower petals, and since I don’t really have an explanation for either of those, I’m glad I didn’t also bring the vocab and breezey ones. I’m already pretty clanky as it is.
He also, correctly, drat him, points out that as soon as Morgause sees me, she’s just going to have like twenty armed guards escort me back to the basement to keep going through swords. I could definitely take on twenty armed guards, right, but not twenty armed guards and three of my step-brothers, two of whom are wielding the two most awesome swords ever, and that’s assuming Gareth isn’t also going to fight, right?
Gareth says he has to fight, for me, since I can’t. loving chivalry.
10) Fairy Godmother: An oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one. Apparently not everyone knows what fairies are actually like. But I do, which is why when Morgan le Fey shivers into existence in the basement hallway, I feel a horrible sense of dread, and not a rising sense of hope.
Gareth is all “Hi, Aunt Morgan!” because he’s one of those idiots, apparently.
And Morgana is all “I will aid you in your quest, in exchange for a promised favor, to be determined at my convenience in the future.”
And what I mean to say is “absolutely not,” but what comes out of my mouth is “Agreed,” because I am also some kind of idiot.
It’s really loving creepy to look like your stepbrother, just FYI. Even if he’s the nice one.
11) A handsome prince: I think Mordred is technically a handsome prince, because he is aesthetically appealing in the abstract, and he is the son of an incestuous liaison between Morgause and her half-brother King Arthur. Which, of course, is why he is here. Whomsoever of my children includes him, as well as me.
He is also totally gross and creepy, and that is confirmed times a thousand when Morgause commands the twenty armed guards to drag Gareth, who looks like me, remember, away to keep going through rejected swords (point to Gareth for that prediction), and he’s all “does the girl come with the factory?”
And Morgause is all “sure why not,” god, what a bitch.
12) The handsome prince rejects the evil stepsisters: ok, so this part is actually kind of cool? Gawain, Agravain, and Gaheris try that exact same attack they did on me earlier, where Gaheris sneaks around with the flying sword, but Mordred doesn’t fall for it. And get this: When Mordred spins around and parries Gaheris’s attack (which was with a sword this time), Gaheris falls right out of the air! This dweeb-rear end looking matte-black katana Mordred is wielding can suck the goddamned magic right out of another sword.
So….actually, gently caress, that has the potential to destroy our entire society.
As demonstrated by Mordred pretty much immediately disarming the guys wielding the two most awesome swords ever, until now, maybe.
13) Cinderella charms the prince: muwahahahha!
So, the first thing you should do when facing a new enemy is gather information, right? Which is why I start out by drawing that horrible screaming sword. Mordred hits it out of my hands immediately, and it stops screaming. So far, so good. God, that thing is annoying.
Then the fire sword, which seems to be functional until Mordred hits it, so I drop it and pull out the ice sword, which doesn’t seem functional to begin with, and also sucks, so I don’t even wait for Mordred to hit it before ditching it. His face when I do that is pretty satisfying.
Now, that cherry blossom sword—do you see what is coming? Do you see it?? That’s loving right, Mordred’s sword hits it and sucks out all the magic, so instead of becoming a beautiful, if useless, shower of flower petals, it now remains a perfect loving sword.
It still takes for-e-ver to beat him at normal sword fighting, but I do it.
14) People have to try on a lot of shoes: This isn’t exactly analogous, but the screaming sword eventually starts screaming again, which is what I would do if I had to try on a lot of shoes, and also demonstrates that probably Mordred can’t actually bring our entire society to a grinding halt, so …. Similar?
15) Happily ever after: I mean, how bad could that favor to Morgana be, really, right?
|# ? May 17, 2021 06:57|
Submissions are closed
|# ? May 17, 2021 08:02|
This is Judgepunk
You know, if I had wanted industrial emo week I'd have asked for it. -punk ought to have one hand giving the finger, one ready to punch in a smug face, and a face full of insolence. Too many of you brought hands stuffed into pockets and a face staring at the floor and sighing.
Okay. Results. The loss goes to seaborgium's New Beginnings . The sole DM goes to tosk's Heaven's Door
On the brighter side: staggy's Warp and Weft earns an HM on the strength of the opening paragraph, mainly.
It was a very close top three. But in the end, Tyrannosaurus's Welcome Friends Open and Dr. Klocktopussy's Cinderella, but with swords walk away with HMs, and...
Sailor Viy's Dig Deep for Victory takes the win and the blood throne.
|# ? May 18, 2021 23:57|
Week 458 crits
SMEGMA_MAIL - Untitled
So, I think the protagonist is a sort of eco-terrorist? And a surprisingly casual murderer. And then they die at the end?
What sort of person was the protagonist? What were they feeling through this experience, apart from nervous? Did they get what they wanted in the end?
And what happened to their Mom?
Brotherly - How to Change Stone into Bread
Oh dear poor Cosimo. And poor Bryan.
The first half of this story spends too much time with worldbuilding and set up, but once you actually got to the bit where the two characters were doing something things got sufficiently interesting that I cared about whether they were going to make it, even if how it was going to end was bleedingly obvious.
Simply Simon - The Faceless Artist
That was surprisingly murdery.
I think this story meandered too much. There is a lot of set up that doesn’t actually add to the story. It does serve to give us some insight into Jacques’ character, but as he’s a fairly generic downtrodden artist / love-struck fool I think you could have conveyed this much more quickly and directly. Instead of having him walking along on his way to meet CR, why not show him spraypainting an overpass or something more exciting, and have him daydream about CR and their upcoming plot at the same time?
CR’s character was pretty flat, and the hard pivot to murder and betrayal felt unsatisfying as an ending, mostly I think because neither character seemed to have gotten anywhere. I mean, CR gets what he wants, but turns out he was always going to, so that’s not very interesting.
Tosk - Heaven's Door
So we’ve got a sort of biopunk post-apocalyptic setting, some people who go on a quest to investigate a mysterious thingy, which turns out to be a library, and then one of them betrays the others? I’m afraid I found all the worldbuilding details hard going, and didn’t really get the ending.
Staggy - Warp and Weft
People fighting against existential threats in vaguely post-apocalyptic settings seems to be a theme for this week, but this story is one of the better examples. Like some of the other stories this week, I felt you spent too many words on worldbuildy stuff that I didn’t actually care about, but I liked your two characters and felt drawn into their fear of being separated. I didn’t really get exactly what they’d done at the end, but I’m glad they found a way to stay together.
Sailor Viy - Dig Deep For Victory
Oh dang this one is pretty good. Another story about someone fighting an existential threat in a vaguely post-apocalyptic setting, but this one doesn’t waste time with pointless world building, and focuses on the protagonist and their very human struggle. I liked how understated the horror of the whole situation is, and thought the ending landed perfectly.
Tyrannosaurus - Welcome Friends Open
Oof, very good. Good characters, weird and interesting setting, great dialogue. I am a liiiiitle bit annoyed at the suspended ending, but I think it works. I kind of wish I could read this without thinking of the Matrix.
My Shark Waifuu - Underground Resistance
Oh dear, that didn’t end well.
There was a lot to like about this story. The action sequences were solid, if a bit long, the setting is interesting, and the characters are good. But they felt to me to be too willing to murder people, and then, given how murdery they’d been, the protag’s hesitation at the critical moment didn’t seem to fit.
Flerp - the future is closer than you think
Two people living in a post-apocalyptic setting have connected with each other over the remnants of the internet, and support each other in the face of despair. Something something atoms, something something one of them is going to use nuclear power to get to the other??
This was some nice wordage, but I didn’t get the ending.
Pththya-lyi - Untitled
Why is the title “untitled”? Are you too cool for titles?
“I am a big strong boy,” is such a weird thing for a big strong boy to think.
How old is the protagonist supposed to be? The dialogue and their inner monologue feel quite adult, but sentences like, “When you’re a child, adults are always doing strange-seeming things around you,” imply they’re quite young.
And then we’ve got an explosion, and lots of death, and Grandma’s secret is revealed, but no one seems to experience any strong emotions as a result of this.
This story felt bloodless, like it had all the right outlines for a good story but none of the emotional content. The protagonist goes from being slightly confused to less confused, which isn’t very interesting.
seaborgium - New Beginnings
Awkward opening sentence. Would have been better to go with, “Clyde slammed open the door and then dropped his satchel…” As it is it sounds like the two actions happen at the same time, which doesn’t make sense.
What’s going on with the no space between some paragraphs?
Oh yay 200 words of worldbuilding. Who is the protagonist again…?
Oh no, a rogue apostrophe! Two rogue apostrophes! Ffs and you’ve got extra full stops, and a missing full stop… Proof. Read. Your. poo poo.
Blah blah blah something about spirit cages blah blah blah.
Ok, final paragraph. That’s right, the protagonist is Clyde. Oh good, he’s worked something out and is now very happy. Jolly good. I wonder what sort of person Clyde was and whether this discovery, whatever it was, is going to make a difference to his life. I guess we’ll never know.
Dr. Kloctopussy - Cinderella...but with swords
I lol’d. I liked the swords. I got confused at the part where her stepbrothers steal her swords, because I thought that was the actual fight, but then I realised it was before the fight.
|# ? May 19, 2021 00:11|
|# ? Dec 2, 2023 09:23|
And This Is Critpunk
Smegma Mail,Untitled Dieselpunk story
The opening is okay. A bit heavy-handed with the exposition but you're introducing plot, character, and setting efficiently. I wouldn't repeat 'grime' so many times in short succession, wouldn't have the narrator dwell so much on the fashion trend. It's a good detail but one that works better as a quick gloss. The main problem with this story is that there's no opposition to the nameless protagonist, they don't encounter any peril or have to make any choices along the way. The second problem is that they're underdefined, undermotivated. The world is a hellscape, sure, but it doesn't really get personal.
Brotherly, How to Change Stone into Bread
A strong opening. We're getting a lot of setting, a little character, but not much plot from it. That comes later, and we get a solid little heist here. The biggest problem here is the ending. It's too abrupt, and a little confusing. (It leads the reader to think he doesn't have the recipe on first read.)
Simple Simon,The Faceless Artist
There are reasons why metaphor is stronger than simile, and one of those is that with an extended metaphor you wouldn't have to repeat "like a" three times in an opening sentence. It's a good image, though.
"Where people tried to desperately sell..." It's not actually a bad thing to split infinitives. But in this case the adverb is misplaced, since it logically wants to modify 'tried' rather than 'to sell'.
There's certainly a trend of gratuitously bleak endings going on so far.
Tosk, Heaven's Door
You go almost four paragraphs, three of them very large, before even starting to introduce a character. That's rough, made even rougher by the fact that the voice of that exposition is so clinical, so tedious. It's all description, and anything that might have been interesting imagery gets buried under the prose. What this most needs is another character, someone to contrast Silky against and let them develop the world more through dialog and, you know, things happening.
Staggy, Warp and Weft
See, now this is how to do an extended metaphor. You've established a central conceit, drawn a few characters, and put the into an interesting situation.
This had a lot of potential, but it sort of descends into talking heads and plan making and ultimately a lack of active opposition. "This is impossible, but maybe it's not, and then it's easy." I think this needs a third character. A lot of it seems to be leaning that way, there's a lot of "two isn't enough", and maybe you resisted the obvious mythic resonance here on purpose, but they're powerful for reasons. And if you didn't go that way, then having a personalized face of their enemy would also help.
Sailor Viy, Dig Deep for Victory
As far as maximum dystopian settings go this is well written. You establish world and characters deftly, and get some seeds of conflict emerging.
I'm not sure what the point of Zeah was. I think there might have been a more efficient way to rule out flight, or else a way to bring her back and make her more significant. Another bleak and O Henry kind of ending.
Tyrannosaurus, Welcome Friends Open
Strong opening, centering on character but dropping in setting and opening a strong door to plot.
This is good. Very good. Not perfect, I think the main weakness is that Mallet doesn't get enough personality to make his decision seem like a decision at all.
My Shark Waifu, Underground Resistance
Another alternatech industrial hellscape, okay, I guess I asked for this. The opening does a good job establishing it. I wonder at the credulity of a labor movement that thinks that murdering bosses one at a time is going to turn out well for them. Neve becomes Never a few times and I'm guessing that's autocorrect rather than a nickname situation. And I don't see how Liam could be alive. Still, the ending works better for me than most. Rage is always more punk than despair.
Flerp, the future is closer than you think
This one is a big too monologuey fit my tastes. There's some interesting setting work, but it's incomplete and inconsistent. It's unclear, for example, whether either character is part of any kind of community. If all ten faces are dead. There's not enough despair if they're the last generation, physically alone. There's too much ability to act recklessly if he does have others to risk. Overall I found it flat, answering despair with a shrug.
Pththya-lyi, Untitled Knitpunk
Pretty good opening,character focused and with a quick establishment of a historical setting. I think I know where you're going as soon as the train. And yeah, correct. It's a clever bit, sure, but obvious enough that it wants a bit more camouflage to hide in, and there little here that doesn't serve that single bit of business and the narrator's minor change in attitude.
seaborgium, New Beginnings
The opening line has a missing word, to or of I think. Not a great start. A lot of comma splices. And this is nothing. No plot. Just, I guess a TED talk about an engineering breakthrough, with harmless ghosts getting exploited in ways that could be made ethically interesting but aren't.
Dr. Klocktopussy, Cinderella, but with swords
Interesting opening. Establishes a voice and a conceit rather than a setting, but it works. The main weakness here is in character. The narrator has a strong voice, but not much depth, and literally every other character is there for her to snark on and little more. Still, successful humor is hard to pull off.
|# ? May 19, 2021 00:23|