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2021ne? Current prompt? Thunderdome? What is this place?
I'm so glad you asked, my sweet unbloodied child. You've stumbled upon a weekly flash fiction contest. However, this isn't spot where someone's going to hold your hand, kiss your rear end, tell you how good, how brave you are for writing a story! This is a place to write, to die, to write again. Every week is a new prompt. Every prompt is a new opportunity to rise bloody and victorious.
Judging is blind. Critiques are brutal. Bad words and bad stories will be eviscerated and you might just end up with your widdle feelings huwt. But if your ego can take the beating, there are cleansing fires here ready to burn away your lovely habits and leave your writings shiny and chrome.
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Click that link above. Say "in."
Uhhh is there anything I should know before I join?
First and foremost, read the prompt post. Then read it again. Then read it a third time. This seems unnecessary I'm sure but you'd be stunned how many people can gently caress up something as simple as "reading." The prompt post is going to give you a lot of important information. Such as...
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You get some harsh words on how to improve. You also get a fancy new avatar for dying historic in the dome.
Okay, I'm sold. How can I enter this violent, delightful arena of blood and gore again?
CLICK HERE FOR CURRENT PROMPT
|# ? Jan 1, 2021 01:58|
|# ? Sep 26, 2023 07:06|
PM me or post in the thread for a link.
The Thunderdome Archive
Lovingly created by crabrock, it has everything your heart desires: stories, stats, graphs, dramatic readings, and even a somewhat regularly updated podcast. You need to enter at least once to gain proper access.
Fiction Writing Advice and Discussion
If you want to talk about your story or just writing in general, this is SA's home for it.
Thunderdome 2012: FYI, I do take big dumps, holla.
Thunderdome 2013: If this were any other thread we'd all be banned by now
Thunderdome 2014teen: Stories from the Abonend Bunker
Thunderdome 2015teen: Weekly Stories with Positive People
Thunderdome 2016teen: Fast Writing, Bad Writing
Thunderdome 2017teen: Prose and Cons
Thunderdome 2018teen: Abonen Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here
Thunderdome 2019teen: Writing Our Wrongs
Thunderdome 2020ty: This Dumb Joke Will Continue Until the Words Improve.
by Sitting Here
HM - Honorable mention; a story that was in consideration for the win, or had some notable positive quality.
DM - Dishonorable mention; a story that was in consideration for the loss, or had some notable negative quality.
DQ - Disqualification; a disqualified story. Stories that were submitted before judgment, but after submissions close. Also includes stories that went over word count and stories that were edited after posting. Disqualified stories can’t win, but they can lose, which is better than failure. See also: Redemption.
Flashrule - A sub-prompt given by the judges as part of the main weekly prompt, often serving as an additional challenge or piece of inspiration.
Hellrule - A particularly unfair flashrule, requested at one’s own risk. Not every judge will issue hellrules.
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- Adding to your signup post indicates that you will forfeit your forums account if you fail to submit. Banned accounts may be unbanned at the owner’s expense.
FJGJ - Fast Judging, Good Judging. A thing impatient morons begin shouting the moment submissions close.
Brawl - A duel between two or more writers. Brawls are separate from the weekly prompt. See On Brawling by Sebmojo for a detailed explanation.
The Archive - A repository of all Thunderdome stories, faithfully maintained by crabrock and Kaishai for several years.
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Kayfabe - It is the showmanship that makes Thunderdome different from other, similar contests. Kayfabe gives participants the opportunity to show a little swagger, or act out grudges and rivalries within the arena of words. Kayfabe is optional, and it’s meant to be fun, not abusive. Come find out what you’re made of, you unblooded weenies.
Kayfabe /ˈkeɪfeɪb/ is the portrayal of staged events within the industry as "real" or "true," specifically the portrayal of competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine and not of a staged or pre-determined nature. Kayfabe has also evolved to become a code word of sorts for maintaining this "reality" within the realm of the general public
The past is dead. The future is now.
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 16:21 on Jan 10, 2022
|# ? Jan 1, 2021 01:59|
On Brawling, by Sebmojo:
brawling what so someone said something mean and your bottom lip is doing that quivery thing and you feel like you can't go a single second more without punching a motherfucker? thunderdome has just the thing.
you can't fight here it's the Thunderdome when two people hate each other very much, and one of them is you, you get to slap down a challenge. make it big, make it brassy; you're slapping your sex bits down on the bar, try and make 'em bounce a little.
help someone's slapped me with something help accepting brawl challenges isn't required, but if you like to sling the poo poo around (and you should) then failing to back up your bad words with good ones will be remembered. brawl stories are good, being able to beat someone you're mad at is better.
how does it work? once you've thrown down a challenge, and had it accepted, a brawl judge will step up just like that weird bartender in The Shining. they'll give you a prompt, a word count and a deadline. they'll also, and this is real important, state the this means if you fail to submit by the deadline then you get banned. the judge doesn't need to give you an extension.
what do you mean banned brawl toxxes are obligatory. if you're actually a literal secret agent and you've just discovered you're parachuting into Syria in two hours time then get on Discord, snivel at your judge and maybe they'll remove the from the prompt, but expect that to be a one-time mercy if you gently caress it up.
anything else? don't challenge anyone until you've done a few rounds, good grudges take time to fester, don't step up to judge a brawl unless you've at least got an HM or the participants have asked you to, and declining a random drive-by brawl is more acceptable than one with a grudge behind it. this place runs on words, and hatred, and you gotta fuel the fire. brawl judges, don't grab brawls if you don't have a prompt ready and don't be dicks; what matters is whose story is best, don't gently caress around.
is that it yes, fight well you horrible monsters
there's a Thunderdome gangtag!
|# ? Jan 1, 2021 01:59|
We've done a lot of weeks of Thunderdome, which can be a little overwhelming to keep track of. Enter the archive, which makes a robot keep track of everything so you don't have to. His name is TdBot, he is a creep, and we hate him. The archive is a repository of the thread's weekly entries, brawls, and even interprompts. In addition we track judges and has done their obligatory and extra story crits.
There are statistics for all sorts of interesting things like author wordcounts, entries and more! If you're thinking "I wonder how many..." then it's probably already there somewhere. Even I forget how to find things.
The Archive is by INVITE ONLY, and the only way to earn an invitation is by spilling blood in the dome. Do not ask for an account if you have not participated in at least one week.
Each Thunderdome contestant gets their own author summary page (e.g. here's mine). On your own profile you can change the privacy of your stories (set them to hidden) and mark your favorites. You can also use the archive exporter to build a fancy PDF to send to your mom.
TdBot not only looks after the archive, but he can pull information from it at will, which he uses to serve as the oracle of Thunderdome in his discord channel. Pop in and have a conversation with him, where he'll use your own bad words to make you regret speaking to him!
None of this would be possible without the help of Team Archive.
Kaishai: Archivist Emeritus
Sitting Here: Entry Enchantress
Mocking Quantum: Crit Counter
Yoruichi: Brawl Master
+ others who have given their time to trawling the thread and checking for accuracy, of which there are dozens.
In addition, several people give REAL LIFE DOLLARS to keep the archive up and running and enable us to do things like the weekly recap podcast, so a huge shoutout and thanks to these fine domers! All the levels have the same rewards because of space socialism. Any donation gives you this cool wizard hat on the archives:
Errors & Feature Request
PM me on discord or SA and we'll get it fixed or see if it's possible to do. No we will not archive crits. Do it yourself.
crabrock fucked around with this message at 10:08 on Jan 4, 2021
|# ? Jan 1, 2021 02:00|
week 439: new year new me same blunderdome
at the beginning of 2020, i went out of town to irving for a fighting game tournament where i hung out with a ton of friends in a crowded conference room yelling incoherently at dumb video games. sometimes, we dont know what's going to happen, how much the world has changed, until you really think back and realize "holy poo poo that was actually this year? i thought that was like five years ago?"
in the spirit of 2020, as one final hurrah for this hell year, i want stories about transformations and transitions. physical, emotional, or whatever kind of change. people, time, and place changing. i want to see the world as people know it start out as one thing and then become something unrecognizeable at the end. the change can be big or small, but no matter, i want things to just be different. better or worse, up to you. but honestly, i am a little sick and tired of poo poo always getting worse.
2500 words, 4000 words with a
fri/sun 1159pm PST
no google doc links, no poetry
flash rules on request
those who stay the same (because they are cool and handsome)
other judge 2
those who change
Tree Bucket the moon is gone
Weltlich the rocks are angry
Thranguy the grass whisper
Staggy the air hardens
flerp fucked around with this message at 05:46 on Jan 3, 2021
|# ? Jan 1, 2021 02:04|
(USER WAS PUT ON PROBATION FOR THIS POST)
|# ? Jan 1, 2021 02:06|
In, flash me please
(from the old thread)
the air hardens
|# ? Jan 1, 2021 02:10|
Some 2020 crits.
Week #390 - Dressed to Kill Your Darlings
Mrenda - The Importance of Strong Drink, Strong Emotions, and Crying in Bars
Very strong literary detail and precision, in service of a relatively modest though effectively delivered goal, this still would sit better as part of a longer work - as a story this feels slight; friend sad, gets comforted. In that context all the anxious should i shouldn’t i at the beginning feels a little pointless, or at least under justified. Good words tho.
Doctor Eckhart - Sir Loin
This is clunky but sort of endearing, and reads like you’re writing until the point of the story arrives, which, fair cop, i do myself more often than not. Trouble is this kind of ploddy domestic detail is sort of writing a cheque for an ending that amounts to something and I’m not sure your account is good for it, because all that’s in it is a fairly lame meat joke.
Azza Bamboo - A Six Legged Fear With Wings
This is an interesting one because it’s crammed full of the interesting detail I generally like and it’s also full of exciting bike action, but not much really actually happens which I (again) normally wouldn’t like. However there’s something real in the relationship between the two bike fellas and their advances and retreats. A good, thoughtful piece.
Tyrannosaurus - do not kill yourself for a job - you are replaceable - like a cog or a lightbulb or a pen or a small potted plant that sits on a receptionist's desk or a receptionist's desk or a receptionist
The very long title gag can be overused, but here it sits very sweetly with the receptionist gag - as always the heavy comic lifting in long lists of things jokes is done by the order, and the implied importance thereby conveyed, and you lean right the hell into it. That said as a confirmed calvinoid i love me some list gags so your wordseeds are plooping onto fertile soil. A similarly high level of execution (lol) applies to the rest of the story, because this kind of hypercorporate hyperbole is well trodden ground, but your robo-terminator is actually sort of endearing. The story itself doesn’t have a lot more to say than its premise, though, but you get to the end and it’s a fairly satisfying if slightly thin combo of justified revenge and comedy.
Saucy_Rodent - Raincoat
Some odd similarities with T-rexes, with the (good and funny) Raincoated Things grooving round being societal metaphors and what have you but you know whattttt there’s not much more to this than that. Plus the list of SOCIETY CRIMES is really extremely lame and the list gags are rather more generic, so the execution does not quite hit the mark. That’s balanced out by a surprising and enjoyable close-out, though, so this basically passes. With a little more attention to the details of how you deliver a fairly cliched premisei think this would have been as good as its predecessor.
Chili - Blurry
A nicely sharp, subtle piece - it’s not trying to do much more than present a character, and a mood and it does that very well. We’re still in metaphor territory with the glasses that either convey telepathy or allow our down-at-heel protag to See what’s Really There, but it sensibly doesn’t try to resolve exactly which it is, and the choice of the quick flashback to the shrink is a good way of conveying that. This kind of story could be described as a vignette, but i think it’s more that it sets a small goal and achieves that with good use of specific detail and loosely layered events that all bear on the central metaphor. Gj.
Anomalous Amalgam - Maritime Law
Well, nice to have something other than relatively bland competence. This is a gigantic mess, though with some entertainingly overheated imagery. The first problem is writing people talking like they’re writing, with yer elaborate subclauses and grammatical constructions, the hilariously out of nowhere ghost fight at the end, and the amusingly intense focus on muscly legs. Still this is not unrescuable - the point the ghost pirate makes at the end is basically what you were driving at and it’s a solid basis for the story, but I’m thinkin you got there and needed to hit post so possibly the grimy piratical dandies of this yarn didn’t get their full measure of attention. Still: not dull.
Thranguy - The Relic
I bang on about the importance of good details and observation and specificity all the time, but I think that should always have an implicit ‘of something worthwhile’ because one thing this rather dull beardyarn isn’t lacking is detail, we’ve got feasts and tales and histories and oh god please end. I read this twice just now to see if there was some obscure yet brilliant Thranguivian point that i’m missing because dumb, but: nope. It’s just a boring story about a beard.
Week #394 - The Questions of Interpersonal Closeness
Doctor Eckhart - And my World Tumblrs Down
There is a genre of story that is an easy target for critique, which I’m deciding to call the bucket on head story. This is where a person sees a bucket above their head and then the bucket falls on their head. The bucket may or may not be filled with something humorous or disgusting, but you know what it’s a bucket, and it was up there, and it fall down because of gravity. It’s not surprising or interesting that it fell down because that’s just how gravity works. This made me think of that; in this case the bucket was full of boring irc chat.
Communist Bear - The Paths of Two Brothers
This one really doesn’t work at all without the prompt, as that is what carries the implicit irony - that the protag won’t speak to his brother about the lifelong regret - which I’m willing to forgive, though normally I only read stories as self-contained units. But even with that knowledge it’s v pedestrian, and suffers heavily from not having the brother in it. More importantly, the professor who’s gonna confess that his badass life got given to him doesn’t actually seem that badass or even very happy. Maybe arthur is quite happy? Who knows. Fundamentally this suffers most from deliberately not telling us the interesting part of the story, which is an artefact of the prompt, but that’s exactly the problem we’re here to solve, you get me?
derp - On the Lake
The sensory imagery of the second para and throughout is just absolutely mint here, which unfortunately means that the line about becoming a figure skater is unintentionally comical, like stopping a Schubert string quartet for a quick powerpoint about trout migration. Would have been well-advised to cut that line, because the story as a whole leans hard into the sensory components of memory, and it’s rather effective for it (and you deliver all the necessary info much more elegantly elsewhere). That said, I’m not sure this really lands, because nothing actually changes or matters, for all the skill on display A BIT LIKE FIGURE SKATING IF U THINK ABOUT IT whoa surprise winter olympics burn out of nowhere
Saucy_Rodent - 14560 Shannon Parkway, Rosemount, MN 55068
This is sort of straining for significance through lots of (yes) good details, but I don’t think it gets there. The question it’s posing is why is protag bro risking his life to get deceased bro’s ashes out of a clearly deadly fire scenario and the answer (helpfully laid out in para 4) is that it’s the only way for him to be free and come ON saucy rodent that doesn’t even pretend to make sense. Words are good enough for you to just about get away with it but this doesn’t make the nut and no amount of well-deployed fire and smoke metaphors is enough to change that.
Haven - Rehearsal
This is something of a bucket falling on head story as well, it’s tolerable reportage of someone putting their time in therapy into practice but it absolutely needs something more to be worth reading. As is you’ve got a list of bad dad stuff, then the protag is like SCREW YOU BAD DAD and the story ends. None of this is poorly depicted, to be clear, it’s solid psychological portraiture, it’s just not interesting. Consider twiddling the knobs - what aspect of this story, if changed, would make you go… huh…?
Yoruichi - The Song in the Deep
‘He could eat his sperm, he thought, if he jettisoned them here in the lonely blackness’ DON’T DOXX ME. this is actually impressively rich in sympathetic horniness for how horrific the participants are so bravo for that. It works because you do such a good job of laying out the thoughts and more importantly emotions of our weird little piscine buddy, garnish it with a bunch of believably horrible research deets then cap it off with a lovely little image at the end. Excellent example of a shorter story that ends exactly where it should - I don’t think there’s much more to say.
a friendly penguin - Walk Your Own Path
Fyi if you spend your first ten paras deciding to walk through a door (with, tbc, zero likelihood that your protag won’t decide to walk through the door), you have a steep hill to climb in convincing me to like your story. Add on some blandly described elfin weirdness, clunky phrases like ‘fought a scream’ and a truly mythically terrible bit of poetry and hoo boy it’s basically vertical. Also what the hell happens, some dull people walk down a road? Lucky to avoid a dm/imprisonment in a crystal hillock until the faery prince returns from BadWordia.
Chili - Gotta Have You
This is a classic example of a story that could cut its first para without being worse than it already is. Actually, first two paras. No, ten. Seriously, you could start with the protag’s double sitting down in paragraph 11 and we’d be roughly where we need to be. Luckily the rest of the story makes up for…(checks remainder of story) hmm. Oh dear, it’s a little extremely dull and nothing hapens or matters. So maybe what we have hear is something where the lack of any particular insight or interest is … sort of the point? But (and hear me out) maybe it’s a bad dull point? YES, yes, that’s something to think on.
Pththya-lyi - The Sweater Curse
You’re probably better avoiding goonisms like ‘computer toucher’ in TD, not because they’re intrinsically bad but they do make judges frown and you should be going for the opposite, and lower in the facial region. That said, this is a little clunky but not completely terrible - it does suffer from being another bucket/head scenario though, at the beginning of the story we know that protag loves his woefully terminal gf, and at the end of the story that knowledge is still nestled within our brainmeats like a alien egg made of cliches rather than protoflesh. I don’t know what you could have had her encode into the sweater but i’m fairly sure anything else would have been more interesting. Even have her, idk, spell it wrong?
Applewhite - Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Some charming little prose raisins in this story muffin, i like ‘went to bed and thought hairy thoughts’ and ‘the barista was in cahoots’, but really this is just a nice silly story that delivers what it wants to with some faintly cartoony characters, good strong motivation and a nice subdued flickflack ending.
Thranguy - The Oracle of Northgate Mall
Getting strong stranger things s2 vibes from this which is in no way a bad thing, everyone malls are the best jumping off point for spooky. The intro is long, but that helps the first spooky para land (with the buzzing fluorescents and the torch beams) butttt… then it takes kind of a left turn and we are in a contrived oracle scenario (which tbf you did state up front) and wise uncle dylan somehow knew and it’s tied up in a knot that is perhaps a little too neat.
Sitting Here - The Clarity
Oof, this is a ride. I do like stories that just lay out their premise at this length, it’s nearly always a stronger play than dragging it out, and this one gets right into it. Girl sees R E A L I T Y , go! This is a good example of knob twiddling, because it’s super easy to imagine a similar version of this story that just stays witth the horrible vision of humanity and aliveness that she/we have in the middle, but it pushes further and both finds a surprising and hopeful avenue but also brings us a picture of two people together at the end, without being saccharine. Lovely piece.
kurona_bright - Hidden Moon (1236 words)
Platinum certified pop star sneaks off with her buddy who has a crush on her, and they come to a tentative understanding… I don’t know why I find this dull, but I do. It feels like eavesdropping on teenagers talking, which it might be? It’s a little unclear how old these little fellas are, but in any case i find it hard to care, and there are all these other characters and nothing really gets resolved and just yawwwwwn.
Chairchucker - The Heart Wants to Eat Your Face
Hi chairchucker! I’m instantly keen on finding out about the facephagic lizard people and hope your protagonist retains her face to the end of the story. And then! Oh no! But! LEGO (™) brand brick robot! Driven by the president! And she’s good, but…!! OH NO!! And there’s the end of the story, with the lego robot punching itself so hard in the head it explodes the president of the earth who’s also a lizard. Or, you know, Chuckersday.
Week #398 - at the end of the tunnel
RandomPauI - No title
In this kind of case I’d always rather see your rambling sentences rather than a selfconscious explanation of why you don’t have them. Maybe put them next to each other and move the order round, then make another one to fill the gap? Invent a character whose superpower is that they can say those words, and make them mean something?
Simply Simon - Phantom Heat
Looking in vain for a ‘horny magic’ prompt here, because woof I’m fannin’ myself over here i tell u what with the proudly erect pillars and smooth olive skin bits being pressed against each other, phew. But, you know what? This really isn’t bad. It’s redolent with steamy wizard sex but that’s a relatively unexplored genre in the dome 2 date so i will allow it. I like all the detail, i like the last minute turn around and the final image is all of a piece with the humid gay sex sorcery, so i will also permit it. I think it suffers from no dialogue a bit maybe, so the mythically hot prestidigitators are a little blander than they could be, but really this may have been an unlucky loser, it’s got a lot of, uh, juice.
PTSDeedly Do - At Their Estate
Guy wants thing, is worried he won’t get thing, gets thing without any effort or even action? Cool story bro. (ps that was sarcastic). I might have liked this more if there was more of an exploration of expectations, realistic or otherwise, maybe a thought about whether getting more education funded would actually help given he just bombed out last time?
Anomalous Amalgam - Left Behind
You spin a tolerable post-apoc dumdedoo yarn here, though i could maybe question where they get all the electricity to solder stuff with, but eh let’s assume there’s like idk a windmill creaking around somewhere in the background. I confess I was getting ready for something to happen in the last few paras, but when you pull off the twist/cock block of the protage accomplishing her dream then having it go toodles and vanish I was surprised and amused. I think it fails, but you’re on to something - all we can do with our words is give people stuff they do or don’t expect and that was deffo the latter. I think if you’d managed to tie the idea of vanishing back into the story it would have landed a lot better, as is it’s just a mildly amusing wtf with a lot of only barely necessary word gumbo slathered on it.
Nethilia - The Power of A Name
Your usual strong clear words here, and a nice metaphor for, idk, a bunch of things, but there’s an element of the bucket on head story with the protag getting what they wanted = though to be fair that’s the prompt for the week. If there was something unexpected in this one I’d like it better, I think.
Hawklad - The Keepers in the Sun
Some good hell aviation action here, with INTO THE CONVECTION ZONE and THE ENGINES CANNAE TAKE IT and THE UNRELENTING RADIATION AND MAGNETIC FURY. then it turns out it’s IN THE LITERAL SUN goddamit my meters are peaking how can they send a girl like that out in a sun-plane like this on a day like that (sun doesn’t shine at night obv). It’s vg thrilling excitement words, and climaxes nicely with OPEN THE BLAST DOORS then the protag starts saying things like "Medicine and life extending therapies have made natural death unnecessary. Population control has solved all of humanity’s problems.” and let’s just say the mood takes a sharp turn. I don’t actually like the bit with the s
Thranguy - Oblique
This is weirdness done right, lots of spooky ooky details and strange occult happenstances, tied up in a bundle with some recogniseable nostalgic food stuff - nostalgic to the point of cliche, but this is how you do cliche well, by using it as a hook to hang weirdness off. I’m really not exactly clear on what our protag’s deal is by the end, but I can see a spectrum of possibiliites and all the colours are interesting.
Djeser - Izal's God
Aww, this is really sweet, for all that it’s basically a riff on terry pratchett, I like your mellow shepherdess protag and tiny angry gods yapping at things they can’t control is never not fun to read. The development is well done, and I like how you don’t have him chill out too soon. Two points of critique - the protag is maybe a little lacking in texture, for all I like her, and the last line is unecessarily cheesy. Neat and effective idea didn’t quite stick the landing.
Yoruichi - Ride of the Swan King
I like this story a lot, not least because it has such good control over tone - at the start with the pathos of our baldy king getting dragged around on his dumb sleigh while his rear end in a top hat son stands in a sneery sort of way, then the smooth, absurd 180 to legit insane fantasy. It’s always a risk ending with AND THEN THEY WENT OFF TO HAVE MORE ADVENTURES but you get away with it here because we witness the change of state happening. I’m also glad you didn’t bother explaining anything more, it would have lessened the delightful fairy tale atmosphere
Solitair - The Garden of Ephemeral Delights
Goddam there’s a lot of detail and mushrooms and insects and mushrooms in this one. As i noted a few stories back, though, detail needs to serve something and what that is in this case is a little unlcear to me. We have a weird insect lady and she does cool weird insect/mushroom stuff, and her guy’s made her a mushroom/insect room and …? I mean it’s a nice surprise for her but I’m otherwise baffled as to why i should care.
Antivehicular - The Visitor at the Clinic
It’s roundly unfair to sum up stories in a pithy line, since it elides all the interesting details that make words worth reading, but in this case: old guy meets cloned wife, they have tea, it’s sort of nice i guess? I don’t know there’s much more to this one than that. It’s well and tidily written, but: dull, even to the title.
Armack - The Taste is Divine
Getting in quick with the lol is really not a bad way to start and opining on the relative flavour profiles of different world religions is a decent way to get that, but it’s the possible purchase of ghost hunting equipment that really made me smile. This is a fun ride that sketches out its own particular perimeter of absurdity then colours in the resulting shape with some broad washes. Not sure you needed the last para; in fact, i’m sure you didn’t. Still, fun, and funny.
Week #408 - WELCOME TO THE BONE ZONE
Salgal80 - Choosing a Path
I was enjoying this murky, manky tale of shamanhood and parental unwillingness to recognise their children’s lifepath and honestly couldn’t remember why we’d DM’d it, then: ahah oh yes the sudden village murder outta nowhere. THere’s actually a fair bit to like in this but it should have chosen a better landing pad. Still, I like the evocative images and the words are decent to good.
take the moon - thaw // bookends
As usual your words are very rich and strange, and your control over sentence level writing is great, but as is also fairly common you go to places that are verging on too abstruse to easily follow. I still like it but can see how this got its DM.
Saucy_Rodent - rear end GHOST!
Sort of a chairchucker meets quest for fire vibe here, which is, you know, a bold play but let’s see how it works out for him. Oh wait we already know - this garnered a delicious juicy losertar, so let’s instead see if we still agree! A short time later: Yes! We do! This kind of broad as poo poo humour needs (surprisingly) the lightest of touches and gags like ‘Glorious House of Reliably Pretty Good Wings’ have a worrisome odour of Trying too Hard feculating all off them like stink lines from an old timey cartoon. And the protag falling on his rear end and releasing the queen of whatnot so she runs over him in a ghost humvee is wacky but not in a lol way. Unfortunately this is the story equivalent of airline food jokes and deserved its brutal lot.
crimea - One Body
HE DIDN’T REALISE HE WAS ON THE VERGE OF DISCOVERING THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF BONES is such a delightfully comic line i’d like to think it was deliberate but I’m fairly sure it is not. I’m also confident that a pause of a nanosecond (sorry, ‘perhaps’ a nanosecond, there’s doubtless some room on the top and bottom there) is only enough time for light to move 30 centimeters so is probably undetectable even by the trained eye of a doctorally qualified individual such as the protagonist. There are any number of oddities and errors in the rest of the story, such as an unnamed observer and lines like ‘a sensation creeped up to him that he wasn’t alone in the room’ but really this is just an absurd pointless shambles of a story that makes as much sense as the riddle of the consciousness of bones itself (very mysterious)
sparksbloom - A Present
This starts as a decent enough observational of a couple of sisters, but doesn’t really put the pieces together for all its potentially interesting details.
Something Else - The War for Your Soul
This is absurdly grand guignol demon on angel violence while a baby watches and totally absolutely shouldn’t work but the tone of the demon protag’s internal monologue is somehow just right, and the crazy early peter jackson level splatter porn is weirdly just what the story needs and is a perfect counterpoint to the sweet and oddly gentle close-out. This was a fairly atypical winner in a reasonably weak week, but it still makes me chuckle.
a friendly penguin - Bone Tree
Your structural decision to make the story a pair of monologues, one dull and witless and the other reading like some kind of avian necropiratethusiast wiki dump was an interesting and arguably misguided one. You could have made this work but the two parts were so disjunct you would have been better just keeping the human as a big dumb creature the crow was observing. Basically the story itself was reasonable, this is just down to execution.
flerp - Little Piece
A flerp grief story, full of good observations and well-drawn details. This doesn’t quite close the loop to do more than evoke an emotion and describe some things, but that’s maybe not what you were aiming for?
Antivehicular - Old Things Unearthed
The prompt conceit is skilfully and stylishly declivered, and woven into the emotional throughline of this piece, and i love the professional nature of the bone jewel chatter. This was probably a little unlucky not to get an hm, but it’s a nice story that doesn’t try to do more than it needs to.
Thranguy - Never Would Again
This is a brilliant handful of mad fragments that are individually delightful but don’t cohere into more than their sum, but the pick made from the literal Pelvis of Elvis (the Pelvis) is genius, and as a slab of words the whole thing thrums with an agreeable odd and compelling vibration.
Barnaby Profane - They Don’t Play Honky Tonk in Harkus Bend
Nice fast scene setting and world-building, good post apoc/sci fi vibe and charming voice. Main trouble is you don’t really follow through with the promise set out in the beginning and really the story sort of negates itself. The sort of thing where you’d be better ditching the framing story and just telling the tale of that evening.
kiyoshimon - The tale of Stepping Tiger
The protagonist being some kind of legendary action hero is odd here since she just bobs along in the wake of events. The central image evoked by the title is good, but you plop it in right at the end and it’s rather too late. As with my co judge I liked the way you did the meeting with the king - he’s just some guy, which is agreeably contrary to expectations.
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 05:16 on Jan 2, 2021
|# ? Jan 2, 2021 05:13|
|# ? Jan 2, 2021 08:56|
yeah, in too
|# ? Jan 2, 2021 21:24|
Week #428 - Objects may be smaller than they appear
crabrock - The Sad State of A Fair
This was labouring under one of my best and most horrible flashrules, ‘this story no verb’. While i normally pay no heed to such things, in this case I feel I should give mr rock a single firm approbative nod for nearly making it, though ‘thank’ is technically a verb. That doesn’t bother me, what bothers me is that nothing happens; one might say well that’s because there are no happening words, but that’s the challenge, innit? I feel like in this case you can see the effort in staying with the hellrules procrustean bounds, instead of maybe looking for a story that can only be told with no verbs. Still, good job, and the steadily degenerating mental state of the hapless pumpkin announcer is p funny.
a friendly penguin - Questions
Bucket on head story, wife miscarries, is sad. This is where you can turn a knob until you get an interesting result which doesn’t have to be sci fi or weirdness = use the perfectly decent reportage as a base and change something so you feel yourself lean forward, wanting to know what happens next.
magic cactus - ...And There Will Your Heart Be Also
This story is full of chunky world building and i think there’s a really good yarn hiding in it, but your framining story does you no favours. Your protag does lots of nice chunky interesting well-described things to find out a story that we the reader don’t even hear, then the story ends. Why not just tell us the story? There’s a bunch of fairly interesting filigree here, but nothing to actually grapple with. Also your first para is a monster, which makes it surprisingly hard to read.
Thranguy - The Galaxy in the Back Room of Grandfather's Basement
I think i liked this more than my co-judges, I find this kind of weirdness dropped into the mundane charming (and it’s an effective register for this length, since you don’t have to bother with balancing world-building and story, which risks falling into the trap of the previous one). I liked the small detail of the galaxy’s pull on their hair, and the well-delivered mumblecore aesthetic. The black hole in the galaxy at the end was maybe a step too far in the metaphor, made it a bit too literal. Why not have it the same, but different? Trees were much bigger back then, after all. Nice piece though.
Tyrannosaurus - a puncher’s chance
This is a simple story, so it’s worth looking into why this doesn’t feel like a bucket on head scenario. First, the voice is innately entertaining and well drawn, which counts for a lot. The structure is great too, longer paras interspersed, use of italics. But I think mainly it’s because it reads as special pleading with himself, so there’s something at stake, and something matters; we kind of know how it’s gonna end up but there’s this faint hope that maybe…?
Weltlich - Miocene Delta
I quite liked this for its thoughtful evocation of prehistoric dinosaur nookie. It’s a pleasant, small story that isn’t trying to do too much, and succeeds. That also means it’s not going to get much more than an in its reader response, but that’s not nothing in these troubled times.
GrandmaParty - Case The House First
This buffyesque yarn is a story of two parts, the well done evocation of suburban depression, and a truncated bit of vampire stabbing at the end. It shares some issues with buffy, tbh, where they get right into the metaphor then have to tidy away the actual monster at the end and it feels a bit abrupt. I think I’d have liked it more if it leaned even further into its influence, and had the vampire be more metaphorical instead of a literal vampire with fangs and bat ears ect ect. The vamp being poor doesn’t really jibe with its ‘haha now u die foolish mortal’ vocal stylings, you get me? It’s really p creepy going round killing sentient creatures especially for money and you touch on that but could have gone a lot further with it - what if the vampire had been more pathetic, for e.g.? A near miss.
Staggy - Enlightenment
It’s ‘pored’ through papers Staggy. I sort of liked your ‘try or try not, there is no do’ message here, but coming at the end it had the flavour of a trick ending which I’’m constitutionally disposed agin, and the idea that a lightbulb going on is enlightenment is a solid pun but not like super deep? Fun little bit, tho.
QuoProQuid - The Oracle
A bit similar to the last, if a little better. I like the robust if not super original joke cadences of the landlord,, and there’s some nice wtf about the little oracle cupboard, plus the punchline lands ok - I’d have left out the devious smile though. A solid gag, well delivered.
flerp - What We Can Do
Flerp, i’m speaking with the utmost level of love and affection here, but you can write happy stories. I believe in your ability to type the words of a story that does not involve death, grief, dead pets, dead parents, siblings, the miasma of endless unknowing that awaits us all at the end of the line, more death. But these are good sad words, so well done. Again.
steeltoedsneakers - Muffins
You’ve got a sort of working class sarariman register that I like but i’m not sure you quite get the internal and external mono/dialogues right - I’d avoid swearwords, they’re nearly always not needed. Look for the space where the swears would go. Also sirens happening the instant a crime occurs is further on the cliche scale than you need to go. I liked your individual writing bits here, though, and I’m totally down with daughter and her insatiable lust for tentacle play dough muffins, in that sense she speaks for all of us.
Antivehicular - Zoetrope
I’ve just finished reading the dark forest so i keep waiting for the ETs to obliterate our sun with a translight photoid whilst in the story but I guess it’s better on balance that didn’t happen. I liked the image here, and tbf it’s struggling against a bastard hellrule, but I can sort of feel the effort = I don’t particularly like the ending spot, though I don’t have a better one for you. How does what they call us inform the rest?
Killer-of-Lawyers - On the Rim
Two people stand, look at a hole for a bit, decide to go to bed.
kiyoshimon - World in a Bottle
I’m struck by how psychotic the scientists are here, if they’ve established the little dudes are intelligent, just Mengele-ing them time after time. So i’m sort of one their side with this one. Greg Bear told a similar (and very good) story with Blood Music, and this hints at some potential interest there but really all the interesting stuff happens next, doesn’t it? I don’t really care about the laser and the buttons and the emergency failsafes. Solid idea though.
|# ? Jan 2, 2021 22:55|
sign ups closed
|# ? Jan 2, 2021 23:46|
I will judge because I am cool and handsome
|# ? Jan 3, 2021 02:14|
Flash rule: the moon is gone
Amver is five when she finds her first edge.
She and Cam are knee-deep in the drift. Cam is sulking and Amver is working. Amver is a good girl, very good at colours, and Dad has told her to look for “vermilion.”
She plucks another reddish piece from the drift. It’s easy to pick colours on clear days like this, with the moon a gleaming hand-shape spread over half the sky, and-
Her red piece is missing a side. Amver stares.
Cam jumps up.
“Dad!” screams Amver. “Dad! I found an edge!”
Mum scrambles over through the drifts of pieces, and stares at the thing in Amver’s grasp. Her hands fly to her mouth.
“It’s an edge!”
And then the whole family is cheering and laughing and they have Amver up on their shoulders in a great noisy procession winding all the way to the depot. Their neighbors stand and cheer. The Gentlemen watch silently. Cam tantrums.
Dad slides Amver’s edge over the Ward’s desk, without a word. The Ward raises his eyebrows and nods.
That night the whole family gets #4 rations, and there is a special drink for the grownups. Amver falls asleep with a fully belly and a big smile.
Amver is eight when she learns what letters are for.
She sits up on her bed, which is a heap of brown-and-green clothing laid over the drift. There are a trillion pieces to the Puzzle and at least one of them was sticking in her back all last night.
“Ward’s giving decent rates for grass-green this week,” announces Dad, over the usual breakfast of #2 rations. He points with his chin at a flatter stretch of land beyond the Fence. “Grass. It’s that colour. Lock it in.”
Dad’s sister nods. This woman is Amver’s absolute favorite aunt. Even though she is Cam’s mother.
“Over at the depot,” says Aunt, “they reckon they’ve almost finished the bottom-left corner!”
“They say a lot of things over there,” grunts Dad. But he’s nodding while he says it.
Amver sits, fingers flicking at the drift. She plucks green bits. She watches for a legendary corner piece, any of which would buy #6 rations for life.
A pair of Gentlemen whirr overhead.
Amver has a fistful of softly pointed grey-backed cardboard. Her fingers flick as she sorts the clutch into six cardinal categories. There’s an Alt, a Leaner, an Alt again, then a Single, and a Split.
And then she does it again. And then again. And then again. And then again. And-
“Ooh, I just remembered,” squeaks Aunt. “You’ll never believe what I heard about Sharice!”
Dad grimaces and stomps away through the drifts. Aunt sticks her tongue out at his back.
She keeps on sorting, as does Amver. But she traces out a shape in the drifts with her toe.
“That’s a capital A,” says Amver promptly.
“Good,” nods her Aunt. “Now for a tricky one.”
She sweeps her foot over the symbol, and traces out another. Pieces shift and rustle.
“Number 3,” says Amver instantly.
This earns a quiet smile.
“Now.” Aunt’s voice is low and her lips barely move. “Take a peek at those Gentlemen over by the Fence.”
Amver shivers and flicks her eyes over the distant hovering disc-shapes. The machines have a real name of course; it starts with “dr-” and rhymes with “lone.” But no one likes to say it out loud, in case it calls them…
Amver gasps and Aunt nods. The Gentlemen have those same shapes upon their skins. Each has a different pattern.
She will be able to tell the Gentlemen apart. This is what letters are for.
Amver is ten when she asks the wrong question.
Her family is hauling 138,000 bits of sky-blue. They’re part of a long procession winding through the drifts towards the depot.
The Fence is a painful purple glow in the distance.
Amver has the sack of Splits, those pieces with two Outs on opposite sides. Robb has the Singles, and Cam two handfuls of Alts. Dad has the sack of All-Outs, which are believed to be the heaviest. The weight of four out-facing fingers of cardboard per piece adds up! Or so Dad says.
“So,” begins Amver, “we sort the pieces, right?”
“Us and three thousand others,” says Cousin Robb.
“It’s honest work,” grunts Dad. He is staring out the very corner of his eye at one of the Gentlemen. The one labelled 27-VG-00509.
“And then,” continues Amver, “we trade the pieces to the Wards for Rations and things? And the Wards take them up the Fitters, who slot the pieces in? And for each piece the Gentlemen give Rations to the Fitters, who give them to the Wards, who give them to us?”
“There’s more to it than that,” says Dad eventually, “but yes. That’s how The Economy works.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier,” begins Amver, “if we Sorters just put the pieces in ourselves and got rations direct, and cut out the-”
She glances at Dad. His face is reddening. Oops.
“Um, I didn’t mean-”
Cam chuckles. “Well, actually-”
Cam goes on for some time. He uses words like “trickle-down” and “market forces.” Amver plods on, lets her mind drift, shifts her sack from one shoulder to another. Like every other bit of fabric in the world, it’s green splotched with brown…
The boy’s still talking. Robb rolls his eyes and grins at Amver. She walks on, over drifts of grey-backed cardboard, and thinks of food.
Amver is twelve when she first sees someone killed.
Not someone die. That happens all the time. The Gentlemen bring lots of things from the moon, but never medicine for births or old men’s joints or lungs that’ve inhaled five decades of grey puzzle dust…
“Here goes,” drawls Danton.
He and Amver and the others are huddled behind a steep drift of pieces, away from the crowds. Bo’s brought rations and Jil’s brought her smile. The sky is empty but for the grey fibrous tumor of the moon; there are no Gentlemen close by. And no shouting, prying parents.
Danton leans forwards and raises a dark green Split with a splash of ocher. Danton is just that little bit taller and louder than everyone else. He’s grinning broadly as always, but there’s a hint of sweat-sheen on his forehead.
“Here goes,” he repeats. And he snaps the piece in half.
Or at least tries to. It seems to be offering a lot more resistance than a small piece of cardboard really should.
“Indestructible,” sniffs Danton, “of course. Still-”
“Give it,” laughs Bo. He punches Danton’s shoulder and takes the piece. He shrugs and bites down on it, hard, and Gentleman 12-CV-00994 rises silently over the drift.
Bo stares stricken, for half a second. Danton screams. Then Bo explodes into lumpy wet rags and a red mist.
The Gentleman’s weapons fold back under its shell. Amver makes a terrible noise and scrambles back, shrieking…
Later, mum sighs as she scrubs red from skin and hair and clothes.
“Better to get it out of the way when you’re young, I suppose.” Another sigh; she frowns and flicks something gristly from Amver’s hair. The girl flinches. “Did you see what colour the piece was? The Ward’s offering Ration #3 for rose-pink.”
Amver is eighteen when she goes to hear the Words.
It happens to everyone. Her older friends have told her all about it. It’s a break from work, at least.
Her parents lead her on with proud tears in their eyes. Amver is shown a tent, and ushered into musty darkness. She sniffs the distinctive farts of a Ration #2-heavy diet and raises her eyebrows in surprise.
“Hear now the words of the Ancient One, last of the First People,” booms the tall Helper.
“I’m not ancient,” growls a hunched grey figure. “I’m seventy-three.”
“Hear now the-”
“Ahh, shut up.” The ancient one gives a cough like dust and gravel and sits up on his bed. Eyes glint in the murk. “Great. Another kid! Maybe this one’ll actually listen, yeah?”
“My name is Amver, if that helps,” offers Amver.
The man gives a brief toothless grin, and begins:
“So. You’re old enough now to know: we weren’t always as we are now.”
She takes a step back. “Like, worse, or-”
“There were billions of humans once,” rasps the elder, “swarming across this whole planet. It was ours! Just people, living normal lives, with no Gentlemen and no Fence and no Rations and no Pieces. And! We could wear clothes other than surplus camo.”
Amver shivers. There is a red light burning in the old man's eyes now and his dusty words keep tumbling on.
“But there was a bad war, and it wouldn’t stop. So: our side built a fortress on the Moon. The proper Moon, I mean. Not this blistered monster smeared over half the sky we’ve got now.”
Amver’s eyes flick up involuntarily.
“The base had fusion generators and an AI core and drone factories, and little Von Neumanns that could breath in moondust and breath out computers. And it went wrong. Of course it went wrong! That’s what AI does, right? It won the War with its nukes and its drones, and then, I don’t know, some programmer must’ve put a game on there for funzies and the damaged AI got the game mixed up with its primary directives...”
Amver shivers. Something like knowledge elbows its weigh into her brain.
“...and so the AI corralled the surviving humans into a laser-fenced prison to have them assemble a trillion-piece jigsaw. And then, the Wards-”
“Here endeth the word of the ancient one,” calls the short Helper.
“Hang on, I’m not done yet-”
“Here! Endeth!!” booms the tall Helper.
And the pair usher Amver from the tent, explaining matters as they go.
“-a metaphor, you see, for how pride is the root of-”
“-learn that obedience and the duty of-”
“-not to be understood literally-”
And Amver finds herself back outside, in the sunlight and fresh air, surrounded by the usual crowds and mounds of cardboard.
There used to be a ceremonial feast at this point, her parents mumble, but times are hard and rations are short. So it’s handshakes all round.
Amver glances up at the sky, at the grey tumor of the Moon, at the landing lights of the Gentlemen as they ferry crates of Rations and tools and medicines and green-brown clothes from the sky-factories down to the world.
She looks at the Fence. She looks at the colours and shapes beyond the Fence, too.
-we weren’t always as we are now-
Amver is twenty-five when she loses her job.
“I mean, they want more pieces than ever,” notes Cousin Robb, staring up at the stockade, “but the rates seem a whole lot lower than when we were kids…?”
They watch the grey crowd picking its way through the drift. They try to ignore the gnawing pinch of hunger.
“They should let more people be sorters,” says Amver, “instead of working the ones they have on triple-shifts.”
“We could try being unauthorised sorters,” grins Robb.
Amver glances at the spitting glow of the Fence, and the little pile of ash that marks a smuggler caught and subjected to Due Process by the Wards.
“Maybe I’ll talk to mum about it,” she mutters.
Robb smiles unhappily. Mum and Dad are old now.
So Amver sighs and goes to Cam, the son of her dad’s sister.
Cam became a junior sub-Ward late last year; his sorting days are over. Now he eats Ration #4 every night.
“Do you remember all our happy times together as kids?” lies Amver, having ambushed Cam at the depot.
“What I remember,” says Cam stoutly, “is you stealing my first edge piece from me when we were five.”
But Cam shakes his head. He begins to explain matters. The words stream past Amver: she catches “economy” and “freedom” and “margins” and the general gist, she realises eventually, is that it would be perversely wrong for Cam to assist in any way whatsoever; and by being so ignorant as to describe the situation as “please help” she has demonstrated precisely why Cam is a sub-Ward while Amver is an ex-Sorter with a chunky cough and one bad eye and knuckles that crunch like a quick walk on gravel.
Quite by coincidence, a Gentleman hovers silent nearby. It is 08-JJ-00139, and it can shoot fire.
The words wind down after a while. Amver blinks and wanders away without much of a fight. You can't argue with the Economy.
A month later, gnawing the tail of a rat, she will regret giving in so easily.
And Amver is thirty-seven when she finds her second edge.
She's seen a long decade of scrounging and whispering. She has starved almost to death. She has silently studied the Gentlemen. She carries a decade of memories; she swears in a low vicious monotone when pictures flash in her brain. She remembers families thrown to the searing Fence. She remembers ambushing an Over-Ward, plump with #7 Rations, and having her gang pluck pieces of truth from him. She remembers the blank gaze of the Gentlemen, watching waves of rag-clad starving sorters running up and over the stockade…
And now here they are. The stockade burns. Wards too. Sorters and ex-sorters rip at great mounds of hoarded Rations. And the Gentlemen glide along their usual paths.
Amver and her friends gape at the near-finished Puzzle: it is a rectangle of bright cardboard three kilometres wide, and one kilometre across. There are reefs and outcrops of shining pigment. Amver wonders what proportion of the pieces are hers.
She has the last piece in her hand: an In-Out-In edge. It is black, shading to very dark brown. The Over-Wards had been saving it, apparently, for three years...
Amver walks for an hour. The sun flashes out and flattens the colours of the puzzle into a vast grid of Outs and Ins. Amver reaches a stretch of darker pieces along the edge.
“No!” shrieks Cam, scrambling towards her. His uniform is shredded. His bloodied feet slip.
But Amver smiles.
Cam staggers and takes in a sobbing breath:
“It'll be bad for the economy!”
Amver just bends, and slots the last piece home.
The Gentlemen scan this addition. Cam sinks screaming to the ground, drumming his fat fists on the puzzle.
The Gentlemen go dark and their guns fold away. The drones clatter to the ground. And the Fence flicks off and the horizon opens up, and then, and then…
Over the following months, from forest clearings and mountain peaks, the humans watch as the Moon slowly tucks itself away into almost nothing.
The jungle nights are darker now, but not quiet. The sun is un-eclipsed...
“Still,” Amver laughs, “it’s kind of a minor change. I mean, compared with everything else that’s happening!”
|# ? Jan 3, 2021 05:06|
It's a recap!
2020 is over but you can relive it here!
Join Sitting Here, Sebmojo, Simply Simon and I as we take you on a retrospective journey through the highs and lows of the Thunderdome year that was. There are statistics! Emotions! A BIG REVEAL!!! Some of us even have goals for 2021ne!
We talk about All You Need Is Love And A Spaceship by Yoruichi, All the Ways You Can Ruin a Sandwich by Ironic Twist, The Game of Telephonesex by Simply Simon, Everything In Its Place by BeefSupreme, The Knight and the Necromancer by Schneider Heim, Lacrimosa dies illa by Sebmojo, Keep on Trucking by QuoProQuid, Quiet by nut, and Downup a Road by Mrenda. There is even a dramatic reading of the last one!
It's amazing. You'll laugh, you'll cry. Honest.
|# ? Jan 3, 2021 05:53|
My pop’s avatar keeps blowing up my phone. The afterlife is boring, he says. Like it’s my fault he swallowed the flavor packet in the ramen bag and choked to death.
His wearable pinged the proper authorities or something like that, but they were too late. They found Pop on the kitchen floor in his boxer briefs. Real gross. But they got there in time to freeze his brain, which was lucky for him.
I roll down the I-5, vibing real hard and enjoying the way the drones merge lanes like they’re telepathic or something, when Pop’s sigil pulses. It’s the total worst. And being his only living relative, I’m the meat bag that’s got to take it. Like, come on, Pop, there’s plenty of deads you can bother. But fine, I pull him up and give him a nice smile, since I’m a great son.
“It never rains here,” he says. “They promised realism and it never rains.”
“You’re from California.”
“I want weather permutations. Big weather matrices? You got to call someone out there.”
“You can call as good as me.”
“But you have legs.”
He had me there. “I’ll file a complaint. But you know it doesn’t get anywhere.”
I hit the eject button and his avatar bursts into nothing. I have twenty more minutes of this traffic dance and I want to chill out and enjoy it before the big meeting. Can’t let dead Pop ruin my commute.
As my drone tries to merge into traffic, its front end bumps the rear end of the drone in front of us, and both instantly pull out of line and into the breakdown lane.
I stand there staring at the damage: two small scratches and a dent.
“Has this ever happened to you before?” I ask.
The lady from the other drone shakes her head. “Never.”
In the end, we both leave. Nothing else for it. Real bizarro.
We cremate his body on a Tuesday, two weeks after he went to heaven. He insists on the Full Catholic ceremony. I’m like, Pop, it’s just meat, who cares? But he pays, so whatever. The priest intones his biblical stuff, then we throw some dirt on the floor before they slide Pop’s meat sack into the oven. I get the ashes, but I’m like, what do I do with this stuff? The priest says some weirdos keep it in a jar on their mantle. No thank you to that one.
We opted for a physical afterlife. Like, the engram copying is totally not the same thing and everyone knows it. There’s got to be continuity. So they had to harvest Pop’s brain and stick it in a big blue and white cooler for storage. It left a real nasty stain on the carpet. I’m still pretty annoyed about that. Ruined Pop’s apartment resale.
But he made it to the facility. He’d been dead for ten minutes before they got to him, and there was some question over whether there’d be anything left. They warmed him up just enough, plugged him in, and boom, there was Pop, floating in the ether. He freaked at first, but no kidding. He was dead.
“Cell won’t work,” I say to the priest as we step out of the mausoleum-thingy.
“Mine won’t either.” He frowns and jostles the device in the air. “Strange.”
Pop’s sigil flashes and I answer. “How’d the burial go?” he asks.
“Cremation. Real tasteful. You’d be proud.”
He sounds depressed. “I feel like I can’t smell.”
“I’ll talk to the developers.”
Pop rings one evening while I’m busy facial cleansing. I answer with the mask still on. “Listen, Nathan, I need you to do something for me,” he says.
“There aren’t enough people here.”
“What do you mean, not enough people?”
“I walk outside and see ten, maybe twenty people all day. Can you imagine? A world with ten or twenty people all day?”
Hard to picture on my end. Overpopulation and all that. “I’m not sure what I can do about it.” I give him a twisted smile and look real creepy in the beauty mask. “Maybe I can go kill some folks. That might help.”
Pop rolls his eyes. “I’m just saying, maybe we’re with the wrong company. Can you get me transferred to another afterlife? Or maybe there’s a more populated server?”
“I’ll see what I can do. But you can call too.”
“Legs, Nathan. And a face. And a voice. I’m just a brain in a jar now.”
“Bye, Pop.” I hung up and went back to getting gorgeous.
Customer service is the total pits. I stand in line at the call drop just to face a screen. They make you hump your rear end all the way out to the middle of town to try and limit the number of complaints they get per day. Total jerk move, but not much we can do, since they control the afterlife and all.
The service girl is cute and smiles when it’s my turn. “What can I do for you?”
“My pop says the afterlife is empty.”
Her smile doubles. I get the feeling they’re trained to smile bigger instead of frowning. “I’m sure we can fix that. Name and customer account number?” I rattle off the info. She clucks her tongue. “Looks like his world’s packed to the max, I’m afraid.”
“He says it’s empty.”
She gives me another smiling frown. “Current worlds are capped at thirty people. Your father may have some adjusting to do.”
“Thirty people?” I look back and at the old lady behind me, like, is this service girl for real? But the old lady isn’t having that. “Come on, thirty people is crazy. Thirty people for eternity is insane.”
“We can shift him to an open world if he’s not getting along with his current neighbors.”
“Are there updates coming? Thirty people forever, it’s just—it’s supposed to be heaven.”
“It’s a physical afterlife, sir, and updates roll out on an ongoing basis.”
So he’s hosed. I thank the service girl since it’s polite then stomp back to my drone. I’ll ask him about changing to a new world, but he won’t be happy.
Not that I can blame him. Thirty people in his entire existence. That’s some rough stuff, right there.
The lights in my apartment flicker for a week after I give Pop the bad news. I complain to the maintenance guy but he’s got his head so far up the rear end of his VR vids that I’m pretty sure he doesn’t experience the real world anymore. I bet he’ll opt for cloning, the psychopath. Pop refuses to change worlds, on principle, so there’s not much I can do.
His sigil pulses almost every night. Half the time, I ignore the thing. My screens go fuzzy though, and no matter how much I smack the control units, nothing plays. I answer Pop out of boredom.
“The street ends,” he says one night after a particularly loud screeching sound played from my stove for twenty minutes.
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It just ends. One second you’re walking and the next, there’s a black wall, stretches up to forever.”
“That’s the limit of the world. Bandwidth, server space, that stuff.” It’s like talking to a twelve-year-old with him.
“My neighbor’s name is Lady. What kind of name is that?”
“Your name’s Alan. All names are stupid.”
“I knew you’d take Lady’s side.”
“Why don’t you go for a walk with her, Pop? Might do you good.”
“Ah, screw her. She knits all the time and whines about her kids.”
“You could always change worlds.”
“Yeah, and I could always have them pull the plug and let me go to heaven.”
I sigh and rub my eyes. These conversations always end in him threatening to off himself.
“You’re already in heaven, Pop,” I say, and he just groans.
Eventually I can’t take it anymore. The lights, the screeching, then the refrigerator hatch popping open and beeping at all hours. I log off and head to one of those analogue retreats. I have meetings at work, presentations. I need charts and acronyms, pomp and circumstance, so much circumstance. I bathe in hot water and scrub my skin pink with sea-creature-like sponges while practicing my gestures, wide open gestures that encompass the room. Going analogue is just the thing I need. My gestures will be on point.
I get one call per day and waste in on Pop. It’s a total drag but I can’t have him unplugging. That’d cost a fortune, total vibe-killer, and anyway, I don’t want him to go.
“The sky is all wrong,” he says.
“How’s it wrong, Pop?”
“The wrong color blue. It’s more like teal than sky.”
“Did you complain this much when you were alive?”
“Mind yourself, Nathan. I’m still alive in here.”
That’s new. He hadn’t corrected me before. “Right, sure you are, Pop.”
“I went for a walk like you said I should. There were bottle caps on the ground down by the rail lines. Bottle caps, can you imagine? Someone littering in here? I bet it’s fat old Mr. Berks. I hate that guy.”
“Did anyone come on your walk with you?”
“Of course not. What, you’re still on about Lady? She’s a knitter. Likes the Yankees. Thinks basil smells nice. Not my kind of woman.”
“Sounds like you’ve been talking.”
“Got nothing better to do. She sits on her porch most mornings, so we talk.”
“Invite her on your walk.” I hear a soft knock on my door. Time for my foot massage and kelp wrap. “Got to go. Duty calls.”
I hang up and as soon as I stand, something feels off—until I realize it’s the AC unit gone dead. Super quiet in the room. I kick at the wall terminal, but that doesn’t help. Broken analogue retreat. Might as well get pampered.
Upon my return to the city, my apartment freaks out.
The dishwasher throws codes. I look them up as fast as I can, but it’s all gibberish: f0, c313, honeydew12. The screens play static, then foreign film channels, then animal documentaries. It’s pure and total chaos. I complain to the maintenance guy, and he’s all like, maybe you got a ghost.
Okay, bro, great suggestion.
Pop calls me up the next day. “I took your advice.”
“Yeah?” I’m half paying attention. The washer’s stuck on spin and I got the big presentation tomorrow. I practice my gesture in the hopes that the washer will appreciate how gracefully I can encompass the room, but it keeps on going, rude as hell.
“Took Lady with me on the walk. You know, she’s not half bad.”
“Sorry, Pop, I got a problem here. Major malfunction. Might have to burn the place down.”
The washer stops all of a sudden like it never broke at all.
“Did I tell you Lady likes spy novels?” he asks.
“You never mentioned it.”
“Spy novels. Can you imagine? She loves them. We’re going for another walk tomorrow.”
I yank my clothes from the depths of the foul washer beast and toss them sopping onto the floor. “Good for you, Pop.”
“She says some of the other folks here aren’t terrible. I promised I’d play Bridge with them tomorrow.”
“Really?” I stand there wondering how the heck my pop ever learned to play Bridge.
“It’s such an old rear end in a top hat thing to do, but hey, it’s better than nothing. Lady says the guys are kind of funny. And they got beer. Can you imagine? Beer in heaven?”
“I can imagine.”
“Anyway, I’ll call you tomorrow. Love you.”
“Uh, yeah, great. Love you too.”
We hang up and for the first time in weeks, the apartment’s quiet. I can finally practice my speechifying in peace. It’s like heaven, except Pop says heaven stinks, so maybe more like somewhere nice, like that analogue retreat.
|# ? Jan 3, 2021 12:39|
1,824 / 2,500 words
Flash Rule: the air hardens
I lose my pursuers when I detonate the antimatter bomb in the engine room of the funerary ship.
Like me, the bomb is vat-grown. In many ways, it’s my cousin - or perhaps closer still. The sister I never had. The twin. A thumb-sized pustule of gristle and phlegm, wrapped around a speck of potential with enough power to light a city for a year. It rips through the starship’s hull and turns everything within one hundred metres to atoms and background radiation.
I’m safe and sound in the forward environmental control room, wrapped in plastic and metal and keratin. Spikes the size of my arms anchor me through the plating of the deck and the gravity generator buried under it. My calculations are flawless; the sight of the walls being ripped away makes me feel like an orange being peeled. My bubble is spared, set loose along fault lines programmed surreptitiously into the shipyard thirty years ago. I was called Ray, then, a model employee with thinning hair and bad breath; now my breath is scentless and I have neither hair nor a name. I’m still a model employee, though, as far as anybody knows.
My chunk of debris speeds through the slowly-expanding cloud of wreckage. We were already at the edge of the system and accelerating; the added boost of the bomb, timed to the picosecond, will propel me out of the path of the trade lanes and into the depths of space. I register the pocket of air, trapped in the bubble of gravity, slowly bleeding its heat into the dark.
By the time I come back around, two thousand years from now, I’ll be as cold and dead as the space between the stars. I can’t wait.
Kris finds me at the same diner I’ve been eating lunch at for longer than they’ve been decanted. They’re tall and thin and feminine this time, with a nametag that reads “Janette Long”. A middle-manager in the Orbital Safety Administration, three doors down from me. I don’t like working this close to another operative but I was told to and so I do. I’m nearly as tall and nowhere near as thin and my skin is shades lighter than at any point in the last few decades. This time around I was designed to be the mathematically average OSA employee, save for the carbon nanotubes in my bones and the venom in my saliva. After nearly a century of what the unity government calls peace, my work has changed.
“You should watch what you eat,” Kris says as they sit down across from me.
“You should kiss my rear end,” I say in return. I slide the plate over to them and let them grab a few, snatching it back as they go for the fourth.
“Seriously,” Kris says, “you look like you’re getting ready to hibernate.”
“And you look like you’re about to blow away.”
There’s a pause of a few seconds. I know what’s coming - I can see Kris’ mind racing, trying to get the conversation from here to there in a plausible manner.
“Whatever,” they say, scoffing lightly and reaching over to grab another chip. I let them. “I just saw you and wanted to let you know I’ll be out next week.”
“Going anywhere nice?”
“Bermuda,” they say.
The codeword I’ve been waiting six months for. Not a long time, not compared to the usual, but longer than it should have been. I could have carved my way into the data vault in a single, bloody day, disabled the coverage of my exit vector. I told my handler as much, made sure they knew exactly how much I objected to the softly, softly approach, how much I objected to being backup this close to the finale. I was overridden, of course, reined in and admonished for my overzealous loyalty.
Which was the whole point.
“Well, I hear it’s lovely this time of year.” I smile warmly, my best feature this time around, and make a show of standing up. “I’ve better get back, though, make sure I’ve got everything sorted. I don’t want anything cropping up while I’m gone.”
“While I’m gone,” Kris says softly.
The sort of slip that gets one killed in this line of work. Another reason why I don’t like working this closely with other operatives - too many witnesses for how imperfect I actually am.
“Of course,” I say. I smile warmly again. “See you around.”
I leave them there in the diner, with a half-empty plate of deliciously salty chips. Wandering slowly back to the office along the station promenade, I drink in the sights and the sounds and carve them into myself, coding them into the space in my DNA reserved for memory storage.
I picked the spot to die years ago, an intersection of five busy thoroughfares with a view of the stars through the ceiling. When I turn my heart off, I fall directly into the human traffic, flat on my back. A flair for the dramatic that only I know about.
From the screaming crowd to the silent mortuary and the numbed sensations of the autopsy. The cold of the freezer. The low rumble of the industrial lifter. I let life back into my body only when the automated funerary ship passes Saturn. I always wanted to see its rings.
A battle rages on. The streets of Madrid are awash with blood and flames, revolutionary fervour turned from metaphor to stark reality. My body is hulking and chitinous, more than six feet of armour plates and sharp edges. The message from my handler comes in a dirty, starving man, woven into his blood. Whatever semi-intelligent virus was implanted in him days or weeks ago now seizes his vocal cords, makes his eyelids twitch in rapid dot-dash, even as he dies at the end of my claws.
“Off-Earth. High-elliptical orbit. Where you can’t be traced.”
“Yes. Why, do you need backup?”
Do I need backup? Am I getting soft? As I watch a dying man struggle in vain against his government, his country, his own body? The bitter taste at the back of my throat isn’t just adrenaline.
“No,” I say to the dying man, “no, I don’t.”
“Good.” His eyelids flutter the message at me a letter at a time. The final seven words: “We’ll be in touch with the details.”
The man slumps. I drop him to the ground with a thud; the old rifle he had fired so futilely at me clatters to the slick cobbles. When I pick it over I find the magazine is empty.
I smell spent powder and the tang of copper and I need to get away.
In a basement, in the ruins of Chicago, my handler tells me that we’re losing the war.
My body is lithe and refined, built for speed and personal appeal. My skin is charred and blistering; my internal organs shredded by the radiation that clings to every surface and drifts through the air. Eight days to slip into the inner circle of the governor’s residence. Nine minutes to get as far away from Ground Zero as possible. Why a nuke if I had already moved so close to the target? Why get so close if I could set it off anywhere within ten miles of them? I don’t know and some base instinct, deeper than anything they built into me, says it would be suicide to ask.
That not-knowing, that uncertainty, is grit in my mind.
I counter. Chicago was the last large holdout, the last city in the northern hemisphere opposed to unity government. Whatever small pockets of resistance remain, whatever rebel cadres still scream and shout about oppression, are dust in the wind.
My handler looks at me as though they are suddenly disgusted by the sight of me, as though they have only just noticed the weeping sores and the swollen lump of my tongue. How dare the bullet question the gun?
Not this war, they explain. They speak slowly, full of contempt. The long war, the culture war, the war for hearts and minds - for the soul of the unity government. The harder they squeeze, the harder I - and other operatives - push, the more escapes their grasp. Victory soon, peace soon - but a millennium from now?
They need an operative in the far future. They need something - not someone? - to restore their vision. Let them die, let the world die, but let the vision be reborn. They need a bullet with a flight time of centuries, its trajectory hidden from future generations of spycatchers. The plan is still being dreamt up but eventually, they will need me.
And all I have is to be needed.
They rip me from the tank in a gush of amniotic fluid and nanowire filigree. In a bunker a mile below the surface of the earth, breathing sterile air and eating tasteless nutrients, they equip me with the tools I will need.
And until they need me, I wait.
The last motes of air settle on the surface of the cocoon.
A thin layer of frozen nitrogen atop a thinner layer of frozen oxygen; the dusting of atmosphere that will cover me for the next two thousand years until I race back into the inner solar system. Until I rise again. Under me the gravity generator hums, drinking greedily from its rapidly diminishing emergency power supply. The air hardens, freezing my cocoon to the metal.
As I settle my mind, let it drift into the hypnotic slumber of centuries, I read through the orders carved into my body and soul, the mission objectives and missives and screeds. The recipe for a new unity government. The predicted targets of opportunity, the countermeasures for two thousand years of propaganda and technological advance. The soft spots in mankind that no amount of advancement can paper over. I’ve read it all many times in the years since I was infected with it, my DNA repurposed as an ideological time capsule. My handler was so certain that I believed -
But who would expect a bullet to change its trajectory mid-flight?
I spit up my venom, letting it run over my cheeks and forcing the glands to atrophy. I purge the combat reflexes from my nerves, burning away the agility hidden within my frame. I keep the reinforcement in bones - I’m expecting a bumpy ride when I wake up, after all - but turn my attention to the memories stored in my genetic code. I copy and paste and copy and paste, a trillion operations, shredding and reassembling strand after strand. I overwrite the screeds, the directives, the mission - overwrite them all with the memory of my hair in the breeze, the scent of the sea and the sight of the stars through a cocoon of my own flesh.
When I wake up in two thousand years I will be soft and weak and free.
|# ? Jan 4, 2021 00:41|
Into the Breech
Flash Rule: the rocks are angry
“Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of wa—!”
“Ugh, another Julius Caesar…”
The shout ended in a dull thunk, followed by a sharp electrical pop. A few moments later, the scent of ozone wafted across the foxhole as Aurich slowly raised the periscope above the rim.
“Nice shot, Ell!”
“Just lucky. The little bastard was out of cover longer than it should have been. Either it malfunctioned, or they're up to something,” Ell said as she checked the cord on her sling. “This thing’s frayed to hell. It’ll probably come apart next time I spin it up.”
“Bet we run outta stones first,” Aurich kept scanning across the enemy’s line with the periscope.
Ell sighed. “I hope so. It’s been nothing but loving Shakespeares in this bag so far. Every dumbass rock thinks it’s the Bard, and it’s getting old.” She opened the satchel to count their remaining ammunition. Four mineralized faces peered back at her.
“All gods go with you! Upon your sword sit laurel victory! And smooth success be strew’d at your feet!” One of them offered.
“Shut the gently caress up.” Ell flipped the cover back over the bag.
Aurich and Ell had been out on picket duty for a day and a half—twelve hours longer than their turn in no-man’s land had been scheduled to last. The Droids had been probing the lines with increasing frequency for the past six, and they were both eager to be relieved before any sort of attack spilled across the enemy fortifications. Before they’d left the relative safety of the trenches, there had been talk about making a push to hit the ‘bots first.
“See anything?” Ell asked.
“You’ll be the first to know.”
Among her soldier’s kit was a waterproof bag containing a notepad, some envelopes, and her pen. Ell pulled out a half-finished letter to her mom and tried to think of something to say—something vaguely cheerful that wouldn’t depress her folks too much. There were only so many ways to say “still sitting in muddy holes, eating peanut butter from tubes and waiting to die” with sunny insincerity, and Ell had exhausted most of those during the first six weeks of fighting. Lately she had just settled for writing whatever she thought would make it past the censors.
…The ordinance corps has decided that ammunition should be versed in the classics, for some reason. I’m not sure where they’re digging these things up, but somewhere there’s a gravel pit or a quarry that’s been overexposed to Elizabethan literature. In the past week, I think I’ve heard all of the King Henrys, King John, and either one or both of the Richards. Hard to tell. I get the Dicks confused. PFC Henry (not related) swears that he swung a Francis Bacon at the ‘bots on Tuesday. It’s a mystery how he would...
“Got action! Relief is inbound—Droids are sniping!”
Ell dropped her letter and grabbed a rock from the satchel. As she tucked it into the pouch of her sling, she asked, “Distance and direction?”
“One O’clock, about a hundred meters. Looks like it’s by an old iMac.”
She stood up, just barely clearing the top of the foxhole, and started to spin the sling while searching for her target. Across the pock-marked field a line of debris demarcated what was truly their side. The Droids had sealed the small town of Appelton behind a rampart made of junk piled upon junk. Ell saw an old CRT monitor glint in the sun and released one end of her sling.
“Blow wind! Come wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back!” screamed the stone as it sailed away.
Two taser darts split the air next to Ell’s head, and she dove back into the foxhole Their trailing wires fell limply over the rim of the pit.
“Miss,” called Aurich. “Impacted a foot to the left of the ‘bot.”
“Goddamnit!” Ell plucked another stone from the satchel and shoved it into her sling. Then she grabbed the remaining two and dumped them into her cargo pocket. “Watch the wires, they’re probably still live.”
“Got it. Target still stationary.”
This time Ell started spinning a moment before she popped up, barely missing Aurich’s periscope as the sling took it’s first orbit around her head. She spotted the junked computer and sent another stone flying. It was shouting something about horses and crowns as she turned to look back toward the friendly lines. Sure enough, a lone figure was coming across no-man’s land at a dead sprint, heading directly for her listening post.
“Another miss. Still wide to the left.”
The Droid moved as she came up for a third attempt. Spindly and squat, it tried to scuttle behind an old office chair. Its limbs blended into the piles of refuse, but there was no mistaking the trash-can aesthetic of the ‘bots main body. Ell thought it had her dead to rights, but it shifted its gaze toward the running soldier. There as a blood-curdling scream, and the string of Ell’s sling snapped as she released a stone.
“...that fought with us upon St. Crisp—"
A loud bang echoed across the field and Ell turned to see the runner still hobbling toward them—hand on his thigh and his face contorted in a rictus of pain.
“Hit! Right in the battery pack!” cheered Aurich, pulling his eye away from the periscope.
“Awesome. loving fantastic. We got an incoming casualty.”
Aurich swore as he fumbled with the periscope, trying to pack it away safely and fish the medical kit from his rucksack at the same time. He began to ask what sort of injury to expect but that question answered itself when a young man fell into the foxhole. The newcomer convulsed and screamed through clenched teeth as another electric jolt coursed through his body.
“He’s still live! Grab a blanket, Ell!” He threw on the thick rubber gloves that were standard in every medkit kit. But before he could find the pliers, another jolt hammered through the stricken soldier.
“It’s Private Arturo,” Ell said, throwing a thick wool blanket over their unlucky fellow. “Taser dart in the right thigh.”
“Hold him. Don’t touch skin or that wire,” Aurich commanded. “Arturo…Art? This is gonna hurt, but I’ma be quick.” Wasting no further time, Aurich reached down with the pliers and wrenched the barbed dart free. With the circuit broken, Arturo’s body went limp.
“Still with us, Artie?” Ell asked, checking his pulse. “Feels steady. Good thing you took it in the leg. Just hurts like a motherfucker instead of sending you home in a box.”
“Fuuuck…that sucked,” he groaned, then winced as Aurich swabbed some alcohol on his leg and Ell tied a bandage around it with what was left of her broken sling.
“So what gives, Art?” Aurich asked after the wounded man caught his breath. “Relief is s’posed to be a two-man team.”
“I’m not relief, man. No more relief. The brigade is pushing up in an hour. They just sent me to tell you guys to hang tight and get ready to link up with the first wave.”
“Seriously?!” asked Ell, rage filling her voice. “We were supposed to get rotated to the rear after we got off this picket. Those…pricks!”
Aurich had nothing to say beyond heaving a deep sigh. He kept the insulated gloves on and occupied himself by probing around the rim of the foxhole with a wooden rod, picking the tiny taser wires from the dirt and snipping them to break any current that might still flow through them.
Ell scowled at nothing for a bit, then picked up her now dirt-stained letter.
…Just got told that instead of rotating off the front, I’m going straight from picket duty into a fight. Not happy about it, but I’m not going to say anything here that might get my last letter home censored. Don’t really know what else to write. If you get another letter after this one, I’m still kicking. If you don’t, then tell Dad that I love him. You already know that I love you, but for the sake of tying up loose ends—I love you.
Until I see you again,
Then she sealed the letter in an addressed envelope and tucked it into her jacket. One way or another, she hoped it would find its way home.
Meanwhile, Arturo had been fiddling around with a small shovel. He stayed low, unwilling to expose himself to the Droids fire, and scraped away at the packed earth along the rim of the foxhole. Inch by inch, he carved a shallow trench that pointed back toward friendly lines, until he found what he was looking for. Using the back corner of the shovel, he hooked a canvas strap, and dragged a satchel into the safety of the pit.
“I dropped the presents I was bringing you guys,” he said, smiling. Then he reached into the bag and pulled out a couple of spare slings before handing them to Ell. “Hemp cord on these instead of jute, should last longer. LT says you can spin them faster, too.”
“Well, I got one shot left. I better make that poo poo count,” Ell grumped.
“They also sent more ammo.”
“I hope these rocks know some comedies, at least,” said Aurich. “Mebbe As You Like It or Love’s Labor Lost. The histories are getting’ real old.”
“Check it out!” Arturo said with a grin as he pulled out one of the stones. It was smooth and blue with a tiny, immaculately groomed moustache on it’s face.
“The true paradises are the paradises that we have lost, ” it managed to get out before Arturo stuffed it back in the satchel.
“gently caress me,” said Ell. “They got in a batch of Prousts?”
“And Achebes!” beamed Arturo. “They even sent a few Pynchons with me. And get this—yesterday after they sent you guys out here, we found some massive Bierces when we were digging a new trenchline. I saw them getting dragged over to the siege artillery a few hours ago.”
As if on cue, the three soldiers heard a trebuchet heave it’s payload across the battlefield and a voice like a freight train filled the air: “To be a Frenchman abroad is to be miserable; to be an American abroad is to make others miserable!”
The boulder sailed overhead and crashed into the Droid ramparts with enough force to make the dirt in the bottom of the foxhole jump. Aurich scrambled to pull the periscope back out of his rucksack, and the other two simply hazarded a peek over the rim to see for themselves. A gap had been broken in the enemy line—their friends and comrades were charging across
Then, like spiderlings from a burst egg sac, the Droids came swarming through.
Ell walked down the ruined street, gawking at the storefronts and office buildings that had been stripped of their wiring and electronics. She marveled at the dust covered floors and missing dry wall. Anything that could conduct electricity had long since been turned into ‘bots, and anything else that wasn’t nailed down had gone to the front to build the rampart.
“Found these in what was left of the post office. Thought mebbe you could use them,” said Aurich as he walked up behind her. He was holding a few pads of paper and a box of envelopes. Ell took them with a grin and gave Auric a quick hug.
“LT said the Brigade’s gonna get back on the road in about twenty minutes. We’re formin’ up in the parking lot over at the minimall,” he said.
“I’ll be there. Where was the post office?” she asked. Auric pointed back up the street.
The sorting machines and registers were long gone—but the walls were still covered in mailboxes, even if their brass numbers had been cut away by some scavenging Droids. Ell walked along until she came to the slot for outgoing mail.
She reached into her jacket and found the letter she intended to send home. Flipping it over, she scribbled on the back of the envelope: Let’s see if I get home first!
She slid the letter into the chute, and turned to jog back to the parking lot.
|# ? Jan 4, 2021 03:35|
den sisters, we
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 15:47 on Jan 5, 2022
|# ? Jan 4, 2021 05:03|
The Grass Whisper Among Themselves, Blade to Blade Across the Field
We were all surprised to see Jimney's wedding pictures on his socials Monday morning. It looked like a beautiful ceremony, out on his Uncle's farm in Athens. A nice spread at the reception, and his girl Saffron was stunning in her white dress and in the more sensible dancing clothes later.
Mostly we were surprised not to be invited. Even given the border crossings that would have been involved, at least we could have sent presents. The delivery drones get covered in the ceasefire agreement as long as you pay the surcharge for a Denver flag. I even tried to leave a comment, but I'm not as good as bots are at passing the botscreens. Not like anyone reads comments.
"It's bullshit, it is," said Marquette. "No. drat. Way."
"People change," I said.
"Sure," they said. "Not like that, though. We were going to be, going to be each other's best, best person. We were closer than blood."
"New job, new life, new city," I said.
"And blood doesn't mean much to lots of people," said LaRue.
"Bullshit," said Marquette.
And they came back the next day with what they called proof. "See there?" They pointed at the image, a close-up of Jimney in his black tuxedo.
"What am I supposed to see?" I asked.
"Jaggies, Dee," they said. "Look at the edge between Jimney and the trellis. Look at all of those, what you call, pixel artifacts. It's a fake."
They had more evidence to show, a spot of clouds that seemed to have stood still in the air through the entire ceremony, three people in the crowd who were either edited in more than once or were identical triplets who each wore the same dress to a wedding. (They were not bridesmaids.) It was very convincing.
We went to the media. Well, we went to Phil McMayers, who had been the academic advisor to the student newspaper website back in high school, and who had a hundred thousand followers and was getting by monetizing his socials. So same thing.
"Deep fakes, huh?" he said. "You're not going to try and tell me Charleston never happened are you?"
"No," I said, quickly, because LaRue did have his doubts there and we didn't need that discussion again, not now.
Marquette said "You remember Jimney Paulsen, right?"
"Class of '29, solid B student. Did a kind of-" Phil reached vaguely at the back of his head. "Tails kind of thing, right?"
"That's him," said Marquette. "It's his wedding."
We showed him what we found and he said he'd look into it. We weren't patient enough to let it completely alone in the meantime. We tried to contact people, anyone who might know Jimney, anyone who wasn't on any nationnet blocklists, which was nobody. Anyone working for a multinational employer, which was a few but none who would risk their jobs relaying personal communications on the work networks. People with connects in Denver or Sweden or Panama, which we didn't know of any for real since LaRue's cousin turned out to be a liar, and who would probably be doing serious resistance stuff anyway and not have time for us. So we'd gotten nowhere by the time Phil got back in touch.
"Take a look at this," he said, projecting an image onto a white wall. "This is from a zoo feed in Birmingham." Two of the egrets were pixel-accurate echoes of each other. He clicked. The image changed. "Newscast from Paris, a protest outdoors. The riot police are casting shadows in the wrong direction compared to everything else there." He turned to us. "I didn't have to go looking for these." Another click.
"You were taking pictures of us?" said LaRue.
"The office was. I hosted this still in Denver, then loaded it back up again." He dragged a finger on his tablet, and it zoomed in. Around me I could see jagged pixilation artifacts. "Looks like someone edited you in, right?"
"So you're saying everything outside our net is faked?" said LaRue.
"No," said Marquette. "But it's all being made to look fake."
"Right," said Phil. "Some, maybe most or all of the nets are applying filters, making everything seem equally a lie. Who knows how much is faked? Could be lots, could be nothing yet, just waiting for the right moment. Biggest story since, well, you know. If I were fool enough to put it out there."
So that's where we got. Maybe I was right the first time. Maybe Jimney just forgot us all. Maybe he tried to invite us but the filters didn't approve, didn't want to trouble the guests with our existence. Maybe he did but got back excuses. There's a story out there, a low-repute info clearance site that has a death report, a drunk driver accidentally killing Marquette but under their deadname. We had a laugh about it. There's one about me being married to Reg Floyd and another that says I went to live in South Africa. Maybe they're believable there.
It'd be easy to say you should trust no one. Easy, but also just what they want. I say do the opposite. Find people you can trust. Let them know what's what. Spread the word, from mouth to ear, around their walls and filters. Build a base of things you know are true, and get ready to repel invaders.
|# ? Jan 4, 2021 08:41|
The day before
1. We were literally moments from salvation when the sun stopped setting, it was very annoying.
2. I spent the first circuit of the clockface frowning at my friend Gabriel, then gave up since it was making my forehead hurt.
3. We’d moved up into the mountains to be nearer to Heaven when the big moment came, well out of cellphone range, so there wasn’t even any social media to troll for reaction vids and what have you.
4. I’d only made the decision to come up after some very detailed study of the relevant books, and considering the world situation and everything, really a great deal of work, so, yes, I was put out.
5. Gabriel recommended taking it in our stride.
6. “Maybe it’s a test,” he suggested.
7. I explained that I hated tests.
8. “Nonetheless,” he said.
9. His face was fairly stupid, I realised as the time dragged on, without salvation and with way too much sunlight.
10. The trees around our hut were starting to droop, they’d had enough too.
11. Around 2020 hours on the third clock revolution I finally voiced the thought that was troubling me: “Do you think we won’t be saved?”
12. The words felt thick and strange as the dropped from my lips.
13. Gabriel’s beard was pretty long at this point, because of his vow, and it bushed up on his chest as he tipped his head forward in thought.
14. “It seems impossible to me that we will not,” he said at last.
15. We’d only taken a certain amount of food, for obvious reasons, and it was running out, though not as fast as you might think; we didn’t feel as hungry as normal.
16. Seventeen turns of the clock in and I was sitting on a rock atop the scrubby cliff face over our hut with my eyes closed.
17. The bushes were all brown and dry and brittle, puffing away into ash as I brushed past them but I wasn’t thirsty.
18. The sun was directly above me, and I could feel it embracing me like a big warm hug.
19. It made me think of a time when I had a fever, I was very young and my dad carried me into the house from the car and I was awake but I pretended to be asleep and I could feel my legs swinging back and forth as he climbed the stairs.
20. After a period of time I heard some sounds below me and I thought it was probably Gabriel, climbing up to sit beside me on my rock.
21. I shifted over a little so he would have space.
22. He was panting a bit from the climb.
23. We sat beside each other on the warm rock.
24. After a while I leaned over and rested my head on his shoulder.
|# ? Jan 4, 2021 08:55|
|# ? Jan 4, 2021 17:54|
Interprompt: New Year's Resolutions Gone Wrong
|# ? Jan 4, 2021 22:19|
week 439 results
i suppose it's my fault for asking you for stories about the world changing and not foreseeing that i would get sci-fi. so much sci-fi. omg
pretty average but boring week. didnt make me want to die, but did make me want to take a nap
the winner goes to tyrannosaurus for not writing sci-fi
DM goes to tree bucket for trying to do way too much in not enough words
loss goes to weltlich because i dont know who shakespeare is
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 01:06|
Week 429 crits
Wow this was an extremely same-same week. All of you wrote good, enjoyable stories, so well done. I am currently binge-watching early 2000s Top Chef, and, as per the advice given on every episode of that show, all of these stories needed more salt. Except the winner, that one was seasoned just right.
2,496 words by Tree Bucket
Things I liked about this story: Piecing together (lol) the setting from the first two sections. The characterisation early on. The imagery of a small band of people picking through vast mounds of puzzle pieces. The sci-fi dystopia vibe.
Things I did not like about this story: The last line (I don’t get it at all). The vague neocapitalist nonsense the cousin spouts, particularly in the final section. The unclear motives of the AI (to be honest I think you would have been better to give zero explanation for why the people were being forced to do a giant puzzle than to give a partial explanation. Just let the setting be what it is and focus on the characters). The fact that you don’t actually describe what the finished puzzle shows.
Things that annoyed me: Proofing errors (e.g. “weigh” instead of “way”). You say the puzzle is 3km by 1km, but have the protagonist walk for an hour to reach a point on the edge. But an average person walks about 4km/hour, so your protagonist is walking weirdly slowly. The puzzle is far too small for a trillion pieces - it should be more like 33km by 10km (based on an estimation using the world’s largest commercially available puzzle, which has 40,320 pieces and is 6.7m by 1.8m).
Thirty People by brotherly
This is a story about a man helping his deceased father adjust to life in an virtual afterlife. The father’s experience is pretty much that of anyone adjusting to living in a new place, and the son’s role is to listen to his moaning and gently encourage him to make friends. The nature of their relationship doesn’t really change through the story; the son just finds his father easier to deal with as he becomes more settled.
Throughout the story electronic devices around the son are acting up. I think this is supposed to imply that ghost-dad is messing with them because of his unhappiness in VR heaven - once he starts to enjoy himself there, the mishaps stop. But whether the father is doing this on purpose or not isn’t explained, and it remains a mystery to the protag, rather than prompting him to action.
What exactly the afterlife is partially explained - there’s some flimflam, for example, about the physical (brain in a jar) vs. normal heaven. I think the story would have been better without this. The partial explanation only made me think that a more complete explanation was coming, and when it didn’t arrive I was left with annoying questions. Better just to present the world as it is and leave it at that, I think.
Overall I found this a pleasant, if meandering read.
Trajectory by Staggy
This is a story about an operative of an oppressive government eventually rejecting their orders and creating an escape path for themselves. It’s well told; the sci-fi backdrop is cool, and I liked the way the story was revealed in snippets. But I didn’t get a strong sense of the protag’s motivation for betraying the organisation they’d given their life to. It was fairly obvious that this was where the story was going, and it therefore didn’t feel particularly high stakes.
Into the Breech by Weltlich
“It’s” instead of “its.” Tsk, tsk.
So this is a WWI story, except the bad guys are droids and the good guys fight with slingshots, and the rocks they’re throwing recite Shakespeare in the air?
I didn’t really get this I’m afraid. It was a pleasant read, and I’m intrigued by the setting and these characters, but, what’s going on? What’s up with this ending? Why do the rocks read poetry??
den sisters, we by Tyrannosaurus
Woah that was hosed up! Good job all round. The characters are clear and relatable, and I was really feeling the poor protag’s distress. Snake-mum and rat-dad and very well done. I love the straightforwardness with which the sister comes to the rescue. I like that at the end it’s unclear what decision the protag will make, but we know that she is strong and will be ok. Did she just, erm, murder her dad though...?
The Grass Whisper Among Themselves, Blade to Blade Across the Field by Thranguy
This felt like two stories that didn’t quite meld together. On the one hand we’ve got a group of friends who have seen photos of an estranged friend’s wedding. They are skeptical that Jimney would get married, and annoyed not to have been invited. They set about trying to prove the wedding photos are fake, which seemed like a very petty response to me.
Then we’ve got a more serious story about the war-time restrictions that the characters are living under, the censorship and filtering that all their communications are subject to, and the resistance. Pissing around with Jimney’s wedding photos leads the protagonist to the discovery that everything on the net is being made to look fake, thus making it impossible to tell fake from real.
The story ends with the narrator exhorting people to communicate face to face, thus avoiding the shadowing forces manipulating the net. That’s all very well as far as morals-of-the-story go, but it didn’t really tie the two disparate parts together for me. I think I needed a clearer sense of your protagonist’s motives to get more into this story.
The day before by Sebmojo
Two dudes climb a mountain to await the rapture, but don’t get saved. The protagonist starts off annoyed, but by the end seems to have accepted his situation and his friend. So that’s nice. Nothing really happens, but you do effectively paint two characters and a compelling backdrop with very few words (I particularly like the bushes puffing into ash). The numbered paragraphs, which I assumed were supposed to represent 24 hours, sort of work but sort of don’t - the last four hours/paragraphs, for example, only contain about five minute’s worth of happenings.
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 01:10|
Interprompt: New Year's Resolutions Gone Wrong
My new year's resolution was to do 10 push-ups a day. Little did I know that I was accidentally doing the most powerful exercise of all: PUSH-DOWNS!
CRACK! went my floorboards as I thrust my arms downwards, shoulders trembling. The spiders in the crawlspace under my house fled in terror as my biceps bulged.
"Two!" I grunted, and the earth trembled, setting off a small landslide below my house.
"Three!" The faultline shook, and a magnitude 8 earthquake destroyed my city. I tried to get up and look around, but my trapezius was now so massive that my legs couldn't support my own weight.
"Four!" The earth split open, revealing the writhing magma within. My weak core muscles strained to hold my form. My belly dipped, and the magma set my t-shirt on fire. It burnt away, leaving me bronzed and fire-hardened.
"Five!" My mega-arms thrust the broken remains of my home into the earth's molten innards, and all of the planet's volcanos spurted lava at once.
"Six!" My sinewy hands found the core of iron at the centre of the earth, and with a mighty thrust, sent it shooting out of the other side of the planet. It destroyed UK on the way out, then hit the moon, exploding it into a giant dust cloud.
Bereft of resistance, my humongous arms simply pumped through the rock-jelly that was leaking from the ruins of the earth out into space. That made the last 3 reps way easier.
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 01:28|
Well, we made it through 2020. I think that calls for a party. And I don’t know about you but I certainly couldn’t have made it through that shitshow of a year without K-Dramas. And that definitely calls for a K-Drama party.
Here are fifteen common tropes I’ve picked up through hours and hours and hours of fevered watching.
Genre flash rules available upon request!
Woohoo! It’s a party! Have fun!
sign ups close friday midnight est
subs close sunday midnight est
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 02:59|
IP: New Years' Resolutions Gone Wrong. 344 words
When I was nineteen years Standard, I went to Mercury. There I polished mirrors and scanned for leaks and was not allowed near fusion coils. I tried Zoroastrianism, and got the kind of sunburn that makes you glow in the dark.
Mercurian years are 88 Standard Days long. I made and kept small and sensible Resolutions.
When I was twenty-two years Standard, I went to Venus. There I tended dirigible cells and hunted Graspers. I embraced anarcho-capitalism, until I ran out of money.
Venus has a year longer than its day: I failed every resolution. I didn't learn French, twice.
When I was twenty-five, I went to Mars. There I programmed survey drones and adopted a form of Shinto that did not require me to do very much. I got frostbite and decompression sickness.
The Martian year is almost exactly twice as long as Earth’s year, so to balance things out I made my Resolutions twice as easy. But I made them too achievable and I forgot them all.
When I was thirty-two, I went to Jupiter, to a low-orbit vertigo factory. I adopted a new creed every morning based on the roll of a dice, although Kenneth messed with my D20 so I kept getting “Nudism.”
Jovian years are twelve times longer than Earth years, so my Resolutions were twelve times grander. But I ran afoul of the Atmospheric Committee and had to take a sneaky shuttle out, fast.
When I was forty, I went to Saturn, to a dome on icy Titan. There I knit, fixed fusion coils, and tamed Ice-Worms. I gave Zoroastrianism another shot. I told kids about sunburn. (I was not believed.)
The Titanic year is twelve Standard days long. I made several small, pleasant and eminently achievable Resolutions involving acts of kindness to myself and others, or adjustments to my metabolism.
I am fifty-eight. I am on Pluto.
Soon my drones will close the lid of my Icebox. I shall become a citizen of the HiberNation. And a quarter of a millennium from now, I shall wake, and make my Resolution.
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 02:59|
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 00:21 on Jan 9, 2021
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 03:00|
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 03:02|
I'm down, flash me
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 03:17|
In. Can you please assign me some tropes and give me a flashrule? I know you like picking things for me because you have so much confidence in me as a writer.
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 03:24|
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 03:30|
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 03:32|
I'm down, flash me
First responder revenge
In. Can you please assign me some tropes and give me a flashrule? I know you like picking things for me because you have so much confidence in me as a writer.
Horror rom com
Love triangle, night of revelry, new in town, overbearing parent, iconic landmark
Super power historical
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 03:39|
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 04:21|
In, flash & trope me
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 07:02|
Interprompt: New Year's Resolutions Gone Wrong
Ok, I’m not gonna lie: that whole Christmas Carol thing where I saw a future version of me, but with all the chains and spooky stuff really made me rethink my policy of injecting spiders with my soon-to-hatch-eggs. I’ve turned over a new leaf, honest. Just today I watched like three spiders go by, and I didn’t stab any of them with my admittedly impressive stinger.
I don’t want my kids to grow up in a world where that kind of thing is acceptable. Where some pervert could be sitting on the edge of a bird bath taunting sparrows and then all of a sudden, bam, they’re on you pumping like a two-stroke motor. It’s disgusting, probably, being on the other side of that. I didn’t get it before, because I was too busy ambushing and pumping to listen to reason.
But man, when that ghost wasp was rattling around and being like “ooo look at that dead bug!” and I did, and it was gross, all shriveled up. And all the spiders, depraved souls, they were glad the bug was dead. Now I’ve killed a lot of spiders in my day, sure, but I’ve never celebrated the death itself, only the thrill of the competition. It makes me sick to see any bug a dried out husk like that. And then the ghost says “take a closer look” so I do and gently caress, it’s me! Dessicated from round after round of jackhammering away on spiders with this rock-hard beauty.
So yeah, I’ve got some resolutions. I’m gonna be a better wasp, get back to basics. No more poking holes in peoples’ masks, no more hiding under car door handles and tickling their little fingers, no more pulverising a spider’s abdomen with my phenomenally pneumatic ovipositor. I’m going to be a more tender, caring wasp.
I’m going to make an effort to get to know the spiders. Find out their hopes and dreams. Inquire about their childhood, ya know. Ask them if they’ve eaten any good crickets lately, that sort of stuff. Really butter them up, get them glowing, then, when the moment is just right, when they’re good and ready, gently slip it in. I’ll hold one leg up to their mouth and say “Shhh, it’s a beautiful thing.”
And as if on cue, look at that lanky octoped. Time to go be the better version of myself.
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 07:38|
in I'd like a flash pls, I'll choose the tropes myself.
Also new year new dome wooo, I'm ready to partay
Simply Simon fucked around with this message at 16:50 on Jan 5, 2021
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 08:50|
|# ? Sep 26, 2023 07:06|
In, flash & trope me
Teen zom com
Iconic landmark, heir/heiress, enemies are foils, loyal companion, new in town
in I'd like a flash pls, I'll choose the tropes myself.
Absurd tragedy. Have fun at the party!
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 16:52 on Jan 5, 2021
|# ? Jan 5, 2021 15:26|