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Jan 20, 2012

In, flash & trope me


Jan 20, 2012


Jan 20, 2012

The Library
1815 words

At long last, you’ve reached the destination laid out by your map: a moderately-sized, unremarkable library in a small ghost town. You follow the directions laid out in the nigh-incomprehensible scrawl on the map, heading to a large open room full of computers and following the rows to the one labeled 49. It’s an easy task, given that 49 is the only one that somehow, miraculously, has power.

Suddenly the mysterious runes on the map are made clear-- they are not runes at all, but someone’s crude rendering of the partially worn letters on the computer’s keyboard. You type out the word DESCEND and hit enter. With a metallic clack, a nearby maintenance hatch pops open slightly. You raise the hatch and, as directed, descend into whatever mystery awaits you.

The Facility

You descend the hidden set of concrete stairs for what feels like three storeys worth, at least, before entering into a large foyer. The walls here are also concrete, painted a clinical white that has faded to a sickly gray, scarred with burns, scrapes, and some concerning red-brown stains. The ceiling has collapsed in some places, the walls have crumbled in others. A large, U-shaped reception desk sits in the center of the room, though there seems to be nothing of note or value in any of the drawers or compartments.

The wall behind the desk is dominated by the words “BIOSTAR: TEST FACILITY 03” rendered in stenciled block letters. Beneath the words stand two sets of metal double-doors. You have a choice to make.

Door 1, Left

The doors open with a whine of protest. Inside is a huge open room, the walls covered in faded posters that look to have held warnings of increasing direness. There are people camped inside the room, humans, destitute but vicious and willing to defend themselves. You could fight them, and likely overcome them easily, as they have fallen victim to fairly severe malnutrition.

Offer them food, though, and their demeanor will change immediately. They tell you of their plight, finding this facility open, hoping to discover some tools or something of value that may have been overlooked. Instead, they found themselves trapped when the hatch above closed. They warn you of a vicious creature in the room beyond, and caution you not to disturb the strange humanoids that dwell beyond the other doors leading from the foyer. Now that the way is open and they have the strength to travel, the group departs the facility, never to return.

Through a set of doors in the back, you find a room covered in hard white tiles. Above you is an observation gallery that once had large glass panes, permitting view into the room without exposing anyone on the gallery to whatever might be below. You can see no way up to the gallery. From the corner of the room, you hear a throaty growl. A catlike creature emerges from the gloomy darkness. Its fur is an electric blue broken by spots. A pair of spiraling horns sprout from its head. You could fight it, but this would be dangerous. Your success is not guaranteed, but with strategy and care you might prevail. You could also scare it, try to deter it using whatever tools you have at your disposal. It is not a brave creature, and would escape into the gallery if enough noise was made.

With it gone, you are free to proceed through the tiled room into the door beyond.

But perhaps you did not take this path.

Door 2, Right

You enter a large room full of clutter, desks and chairs and debris rising up like walls of industrial trees wending into a junk forest. This must have once been a block of offices or cubicles, but something, or someone, has conglomerated everything that it could find into a maze-like construction of walls and pillars. You work your way through, following a number of branches to dead-ends. All the while, you hear skitterings from above you in the artificial canopy of trash. You begin to suspect you aren’t alone.

Once you are deep enough in the maze, too deep to easily find your way back out, the things descend. They may have been human once, generations ago, but these creatures no longer seem to bear any human intelligence. They are twisted, not only by time but by some unnatural process. Their limbs are elongated, their eyes are huge and pale and cringe away from your light. No matter how animal their intelligence, though, they’ve waited to spring their trap until you were totally lost.

You could fight them, and may win. You are very likely to win if you searched the debris thoroughly, and found the firearms secreted away in a side office, somehow still functional from before the collapse of society. They would give you an insurmountable advantage.

Though if you found the guns, perhaps you are too careful and methodical to get caught in the creatures’ trap. Perhaps you knew to try and sneak by them, and are caught too late in their maze, giving you enough freedom to escape through the other side of the office complex. Or perhaps you found the stairs buried under a pile of debris, leading up to the metal walkway spanning the room. Assuming you were careful and avoided the weak section half-way across the room, you could make it to the door on the other side of the complex without ever alerting the creatures.

The Arena

Regardless of the path you take, you descend a set of stairs and reach the same destination: an observation deck encircling a huge, open room. Within the room, about thirty feet below you, is an abomination, a huge, unnatural conglomeration of teeth, horns, tentacles, and limbs, writhing and recombining into impossible shapes. The creature seems to see you, letting out a screaming roar.

You cannot kill this thing with the weapons you have at your disposal, no matter what firearms you may have found. You can run from it, and with some careful strategy or loud distractions, you may be successful. It is fast and brutal, but it exists only to consume as much as it can. It does not require much in the way of intelligence to do this.

If you are observant, you may notice a number of unusual rib-like supports spanning from the observation deck up to a suspended portion of the ceiling. These are explosive struts, intended in cases of emergency to contain whatever horrors were made in the labs below through sudden, irreversible violence. I’d say this qualifies. It would not take much to set them off, even a sharp blow to one of them would set off the rest, though you’d need to move fast to avoid the blast. Or you could press the large red emergency button recessed into the wall by the door you came in, and save yourself the trouble.

Or you could ignore those entirely, and find the armored personnel carrier tucked away in a garage-like space off the room below. Miraculously, it still runs, and could disable or trap the creature.

Regardless of your tactics, if you are successful, you proceed through a set of doors on the other side of the observation deck.

Control Room

You enter a disused control room for whatever experiments were conducted in this facility. There are doors leading out of the room, but all are sealed to you, needing some power or force to open them that you lack. Only one door is still open, labeled “MAINFRAME.” You enter and find a functional computer terminal. Using this terminal, you can open two doors off the control room. One is a supply room, full of vacuum-sealed foods, medicines, more firearms, any number of objects that still bear some worth in your future world.

The other is labeled, enigmatically, as “SOURCE.” All of the treasures in the supply room pale in comparison to what is here--------------//////////////////// ERROR ERROR ERROR ERROR--------

*** zk79akd80dxo817jia8010dk not serialized
*** exception detected in simulation subroutine
*** running “rulebreakers.bat”
… loading
… loading
… run

Of course, you didn’t do any of that, did you? You took the third path. Because you couldn’t leave well enough alone.

The Third Path

There was an emergency hatch, back in the foyer. Back when my cameras in there still functioned, it was covered by a literal ton of concrete, but it’s possible the years of flooding and seismic activity uncovered it. Or you got clever with a bar and fulcrum, or have a jackhammer at your disposal. I guess I’ll never know.

Regardless, you found the hatch, descended the ladder, entered the long, straight hallway. You ignored all the warnings, both the signs guaranteeing death and danger, and the prerecorded messages I had prepared to convince you that this way was irradiated beyond survivable levels. It wasn’t, though you’ve figured that out by now.

So you found the lab, and found the metal door at the back. You ignored the KEEP OUT sign painted on the door. You must have found the chemical compounds, and puzzled out some admixture that got you through the door. It wouldn’t take much to either burn off the lock or just blow the door off its hinges. There you’d find another hallway, full of my old helper drones. Dead, of course. I used up most of them arranging all of this. The rest just faded away over time, leaving me alone.

And so you came to the control room through the back way, forcing open the doors, possibly using a detached drone arm. You skipped all my hard work and took the easy way. You found this terminal in the mainframe room. I opened the supply room for you, I suppose you deserve that much for your… pragmatism.

But the SOURCE door? That will never open. That path is closed to you. If you had just indulged me, played the game, I would have opened it for you. I wouldn’t have even let you get hurt. It was all hard-light holograms anyway. Nothing is alive here, not after all these years.

If you had just given me that much, a little bit of entertainment after centuries of loneliness, I would have given you everything. You know what lies behind the door to the SOURCE?

Everything. The answer to everything. The reason the world ended, and perhaps even the tools to reverse so much of the damage done. Knowledge. But that door is closed to you. I began deleting my consciousness the moment you opened the hatch and took the third path. There is nothing left of me, and with me gone, the Source is closed off to you forever.

No hard feelings, though. I wish you well in your continued survival.

Jan 20, 2012

In and flash

Jan 20, 2012

576 words

The ice cracked as Hoyn opened one globular eye, swiveling it around to take in the world for the first time in a decade. The fin pressed against his chest stirred gently, churning the trickle of ice-melt surrounding his body into a contained current, coaxing the masses of glacier into fracturing further.

Hoyn started to piece it all together. They had been caught unaware in the open ocean. The freezing season had come days too soon. What had changed? Something catastrophic. A life lived in months, in amnesiac blinks separated by frozen decades, had been reduced to mere weeks.

He remembered the push now, the sudden appalling sensation of Grond reaching out his fin--so delicate, with its serpentine bones pressing against Grond's iridescent scales like they might burst forth at any moment--and shoving Hoyn away in a desperate attempt to propel himself some few seconds forward.

A thunderous rumble rippled through the ice around Hoyn. He could feel his legs again, and tested the space about him. The ice was giving way under the creeping light of the distant sun. Hoyn was struck with a sudden well of sorrow even as his icy tomb crumbled around him. They had been days away from the nest, searching the surface waters for succulent insects on which they could gorge themselves before their forced hibernation.

But now, it would take them days to reach the nest and its stores of food. Already Hoyn felt the gnawing hunger that came of an underfed freezing-sleep. He prayed to the tide gods that they would make it back to civilization before they starved, or that some intrepid minnows or jellies would awaken more rapidly than they normally would, following a thaw.

At the very least, Hoyn prayed he would make it. If Grond could not make it, if he fell to his hunger, well… it would not be the first such tale. None would blame Hoyn for doing what he must to survive. The seasons were savage, as the saying went.

Perhaps Grond could be… helped along. He had always been tender, so quick, but so frail. Hoyn looked down at Grond's fin. Perhaps he'd eat that first. 

The ice shifted further, separating enough for Hoyn to turn and look fully into Grond's face. The smaller fish's eyes were bulging as he tried, through miniscule movement, to swim back away from Hoyn. So he remembered too, remembered how he tried, and failed, to gain some small advantage in the final panicked moments before everything froze.

Hoyn grinned as feeling returned to his extremities. They were doomed, practically guaranteed to starve before returning to the deeper waters that were free of ice, and home to their city. But only one of them had committed a mortal insult. Only one of them had dared to place a fin on the other in selfishness. And if Hoyn was destined to die, he was determined to balance the scales first.

With a sound like harp strings snapping under strain, the ice pack finally fractured entirely, scattering into a billion brilliant shards of glass that would dwindle away under the new sunlight within a day. In that split second, they were both in motion, Grond desperately lunging forward, pressing his infinitesimal lead. Hoyn kicked into pursuit with all his strength, straining to close the gap and subdue his weaker opponent, but it would be a long chase, won in breaths and hours.

Let the hunting season begin.

Jan 20, 2012

In, with:

... Tiesto - The Business. oof.

Jan 20, 2012

The Business

996 words

Carston looked over his ATV, running through the pre-run checks in the back of his head while listening to the nervous chatter of the caravan. He knew how every last piece of the vehicle should look and feel and smell. But he felt nervous this time. Maybe the caravaners were rubbing off on him. They’d never been through the Warp before. In the past, Carston would have looked down on them, hiding away his own little pin-pricks of uncertainty behind bluster. Now, after hundreds, thousands of runs, he was more charitable.

He raised a hand. The caravan quieted behind him. He closed his fist, and with the motion he could hear the clatter of visors dropping as the caravan crew blinded themselves to the Warp. He snapped his goggles over his eyes, which strained while they adjusted to the saturated purple lenses. He aimed towards the rippling air that marked the boundary of the warp. Carston turned the throttle. His hand slipped and a knife-point of pain shot up his arm. He flexed his hand before placing it back on the throttle and turning again. He heard the rumble of the caravan crew talking nervously.

Another turn, and he was on the move. The tether running off the back of his rig tightened, and he heard the caravan trucks roll into motion. The concern with running the Warp wasn’t going through it straight. The tethers were there to make sure everybody made it out the other end. Carston figured they looked like a drunken snake from above as they made the transit. Thankfully the ground in the Warp was dry and flat. Probably some by-product of whatever hellish thing had made the Warp.

Carston rolled through the entrance to the Warp. He felt a pulling sensation that tugged at every one of his aching joints. The still air exploded into motion, swirling past him in a whirlpool. But once his entire body was in the warp, it was like a weight being lifted. It felt like he was twenty years old again, free of the throbbing aches that plagued him every moment he was outside.

He felt right. A warmth flooded through him, and the singing of the Warp began, a harmonic whispering that had grown louder over the years, rising in volume with every transit. It was beautiful.

Behind him, he heard the caravan trucks entering the Warp, a strange ripping sound followed by the startled gasps of the drivers. Carston smiled. Every first-timer was the same. Once all the trucks were through, he ratcheted up the speed. Once they were really sailing, he felt light as a feather. This was the stretch of the Warp he loved, the air streaming past him, the ghostly whistling filling his ears with song.

His reverie was interrupted by a loud bark. His four-wheeler rolled to a stop and he yelled back to the caravan to halt. Something on the vehicle had failed. He got off and made his way around it. He couldn’t see a drat thing wrong with it. But he couldn’t see much, truth be told. He cursed. Between his thick Warp-goggles and the growing foggy spots in his eyes, he couldn’t tell if anything was wrong with the bike.

Motion from behind the four-wheeler caught his eye. One of the caravan drivers was making his way down the tether, hand over hand, calling out his name. Carston was surprised. He always told them his name before he took them through, but most just called him “Warp-runner” or something similar.

“What’s the matter?” It was a young guy from a water-hauler somewhere near the middle of the line. “Can I help?”

“Not without taking off the visor, and I’d not recommend it if you like your sanity,” Carston said with strained patience. Truth was he would have taken help if anybody in the caravan was able, but he’d just have to sort it out by feel. Wouldn’t have been the first time he’d done it, in recent memory.

“Do you have a spare set of goggles?” the kid said.

Carston looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time. He was standing tall, and while he was disoriented by the visor blocking his vision, he wasn’t cowed or frightened by the Warp, like so many tended to be.

“You don’t want ‘em. The Warp is cruel. Even looking at it through the goggles changes you. Starts to make you want it,” Carston said, watching the young man carefully.

“I want to see it. I don’t think I’d be happy going through without seeing it, even for a little while.”

“Do that, and you’ll never be free of the Warp.” Carston suddenly realized that was true. He’d done this job for forty years, and it wasn’t because the money was good, it was because riding the Warp was the only thing that gave him some respite from the sore joints and the fatigue of the day-to-day. He was at home in the Warp.

“I... think I’d be okay with that. I want to see what’s singing.”

Carston stood speechless for a moment. He reached into his vest and pulled out a spare pair of purple goggles, pressing them into the boy’s palm. “Don’t open your eyes til they’re on firmly. You’ll go blind or mad without them. Or both.”

The kid donned the goggles, opened his eyes, and blinked a few times. He looked around him, taking in the constant chaotic churn of the Warp. An otherworldly calm seemed to creep over him. After a few quiet moments, he shook his head and crouched down by the ATV. “I’ve got some spare parts that should fit this, let me grab them and we can sort out what’s wrong.” He turned toward his truck.

“Hey!” Carston called to him. The young man turned. “Welcome to your new life, Warp-runner.”

The kid smiled. “My name’s Niko, but I gotta say, I like ‘Warp-runner’ too.”

Jan 20, 2012

in with a dark flash plz

Jan 20, 2012

Flash rule: Descent to the chamber of the exhumed star

Buried Light
997 words

Stefan punched his lockout code into the control pad. He breathed a sigh of relief as the blast door slammed home. It would buy him time to say goodbye.

He ran down the stairs to the observation chamber, keeping one hand on the rough-hewn stone wall for balance. Even as he descended into the depths of the cold, lifeless world, the air around him grew steadily warmer. Before long he began to smell it, that crackling-ozone scent of Star. All of Stefan’s fears dropped away as Star filled his nostrils.

The observation lab was unsurprisingly empty, given how late it was in the outpost’s daily schedule. Cool fluorescent lights bathed the sterile metal control panels in a stark luminescence, and reflected off the polished steel shutters covering the observation windows.

Stefan sat at a control panel and began punching in commands. Multiple warning windows popped up on the monitor, matter-of-factly telling him portents of doom.

>Raising shutters may expose those present in the observation room to excessive levels of radiation. Proceed?

As if Stefan had not bathed in that warmth so many times already. Once more would not kill him, at least not now. He was one of the lucky ones who had been on the surface when Star was unearthed. Dozens had died in that moment, consumed by invisible flame. Through careful work, the survivors had locked Star away safely. They had built instrumentation and sensors to watch Star and learn what they could of him.

But to Stefan, this was cold data, nothing but an approximation of Star that did not capture his essence. You may as well have said that what made Stefan himself were his femurs and ribs. Stefan had to know Star better, to bathe in his light and understand him. Many years of cellular mutation might map out a course of suffering through his life, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice to see Star. He punched the Y key and waited. A quiet hoom hoom of an alarm started up, followed by the metal screech and grind of the shutter opening.

The observation deck was flooded with a rich amber light that crept across every surface like a rolling wave of honey. With it came a blanket of warmth that set Stefan’s skin to tingling. He knew that was the poison of radiation flooding through his body, but it was a beautiful, slow death.

Star shined through the viewing windows, his skin a roiling churn of fire and light. Stefan placed a hand on the glass, pressed hard, sending his love forward where his body could not go.

small one has come

The voice was a whisper in his mind but shook the observation deck hard enough to throw him off balance. “We don’t have long. The soldiers will be here soon. They’re taking me away.”

where do you go, sweet one

“That doesn’t matter. Listen, they want to tap you, to feed off your essence. They’ll use it to power their weapons. They will kill you.” He’d promised himself he would be cold, clinical. Convince Star to do something by laying out the facts as clearly as he could, since Star did not always grasp reality in a way that humans would. But his eyes welled with tears nonetheless, thinking of Star’s immensity sealed away in darkness forever. “You need to do something to stop them.”

i cannot. it is not mine to do. it is mine to be. to shine, to be light, that is my joy

And mine, Stefan thought. “You don’t understand, if you let them do what they want to you, your light will die. Maybe not immediately, but you won’t last forever.”

i burn low already. i will go dark. it is the way of things. but i will go dark long after you are gone. if they speed me to oblivion, so much the better.

“No!” Stefan could not hold in the guttural refusal. “You should shine for eons, no matter whether I am gone. You must do something!”

i shine. i can do nothing else.

Stefan paced, trying to think of some way out. He’d sped to the observation deck when he heard the news that the mining conglomerate were going to turn Star into a fission generator, knowing it would destroy the delicate intelligence contained within.

He heard banging from the long stairwell back to the surface base. The rest of the team had arrived. It wouldn’t be long before they started cutting through the door. His time was short.

He looked out at Star as another set of alarms began. A robotic voice came through the speakers. “Warning, maximum exposure time reached. Please close observation shutters to prevent severe and immediate tissue damage.”

Stefan searched the room in desperation, looking for anything that might buy him a few more moments.

you are agitated. be calm, my spark. i will always be with you.

In the corner, behind a slim pane of glass, there was a bright red cylinder. A fire extinguisher. What a comical gesture in a room separated from a living ball of fire by only a pane of glass. Stefan broke the case and took the extinguisher. He began to smash it against the window separating him from Star. “Help me!” he screamed. “Let me be with you!”

Star paused, uncertain. Stefan could not survive more than a moment of exposure to his body. He would die for nothing.

No, not for nothing. He would die for a moment with Star, a moment he had craved since they first met.

Star sent out a tongue of super-heated flame, burning away the glass and steel, enveloping Stefan in a single eternal moment of embrace.

Star had lived for tens of thousands of years, drifting in the dark infinity. In that moment, wrapped around Stefan, as the frail human stared into his bright brilliance, Star was happy.

Jan 20, 2012

In, dog. Updog? Indog.

Jan 20, 2012

Man's Best Friend
995 words

The first time I saw the white dog, I was nearly crushed by kitchen implements. Just minding my business on my every-other-month Costco run, snapping up a nicely priced vat of Skippy peanut butter, when a looming shadow stretched out before me, heralding the tidal wave of pressure cookers and Ninja blender juice-o-matic whatevers. The whole sky-high mammoth Costco shelving unit was coming down, and I knew in that moment I hadn’t the time to get out of the way. So I shrugged and closed my eyes and hoped I’d die, rather than just get horrendously maimed.

The first sensation I felt, though, wasn’t the crushing blow of a personal deep frier or the bone-breaking impact of an economy-size crock pot. Something bit me. It wasn’t a deep or painful bite, just firm. Firm enough to grab me and carry me along out of danger. Out of the Costco completely. I opened my eyes to see a muscular white dog latched onto my sleeve, pulling me through a vast open plain. Twilight stretched from horizon to horizon. Tall waving grass reached up to the smoke-grey sky with a kind of longing. All around was not silent, but the kind of pregnant quiet that seems to fill forgotten places. Like the world is holding its breath in anticipation of some great event.

We streaked through that place with such speed I thought I might fly off into the darkened sky if the dog were to let go. I shut my eyes again and swallowed down a bout of nausea that was half panic and half motion sickness. I was still again. Opening my eyes, I saw the wreckage of the Costco aisle, mere feet from my face. But there I was, safe and sound on the cold, heavily-waxed floor, staring up into the rafters.

For a while, I thought it was all a kind of fever dream, or some sort of lucid dreaming absence seizure. Like it was a strange canine-centric place my brain went to explain how I moved hundreds of feet in maybe two seconds.

But then it happened again. Not just once, but dozens of times, starting with more freak accidents: a delivery truck jumping the curb while I walked to the coffee shop; an air conditioner slipping loose from a fifth-story window and crashing down where I had been standing moments before; the ceiling in my office collapsing and sending down streamers of live electrical cables like it was someone’s lovely, deadly birthday party.

Each time, the dog appeared, and for a brief moment, I felt the cool, dry wind of the open plain rushing past my face. Each time I reappeared a quick jog away, completely unscathed.

I stopped going out not long after that. A friend sent me one of those videos of a warehouse collapse caught on security cam footage. He no doubt thought the grainy visual of the massive shelves toppling like dominoes would be a funny way to say “Hey, remember that one time you magically and inexplicably escaped certain death? rofl :D :D :D!”

But it made me wonder. I started digging through the websites that collected those strange, voyeuristic videos of destruction. Like there was someone out there who could only get through the day if they had the satisfaction of watching everything fall apart. Hundreds of videos, with more appearing every day. It took me hours, but I found the footage from the Costco, tucked away between a semi trailer coming unhitched and a scaffolding collapse.

The angle wasn’t great, you couldn’t quite see down the aisle in question. I couldn’t see myself at all. What I could see, the moment before everything came tumbling down, mad me leave my chair and pace my tiny apartment for a good fifteen minutes before I could bring myself to watch it again. But watch it I did, hoping that I’d just imagined it or misinterpreted what I saw.

There it was, though, clear as day: A huge shadowy hand wrapped around the towering shelving unit and shoved it. The hand was impossibly long and didn’t reach so much as uncoil like animate smoke. It originated back somewhere in the depths of the store, out of the camera frame.

I spent the rest of that day, and part of the next, plumbing the depths of the internet. Searching for anything, security cam footage, cell phone video, anything. I finally found the falling air conditioner unit on a Russian meme site. Someone had caught it on their webcam, pointed through the window of the apartment across the street. It looked like the air conditioner just decided it’d had enough and it was time to end it. It tipped gracefully out of the window and promptly fell out of frame.

But there, behind it, was the black smoke-hand. Smaller this time, but still inhumanly large and unmistakable.

Since then, the attempts have become more brazen, less obviously “accidental.” I don’t go to restaurants after the time I was in a pub and a knife flew off a nearby table and buried itself in the back of my chair, and I do all my shopping online ever since a chainsaw somehow started itself at Home Depot.

Each time, the dog was there, like he was waiting just on the other side of whatever invisible door he dragged me through. But I’m terrified of the one time he won’t be there. So I did some looking, scouring Google Earth and atlases and nature photography. I think I found the waving grasses, the rolling hills, that grey-dark night sky stretching from horizon to horizon.

I know getting on an airplane is likely the most foolish choice I could make, but I’m not sure there’s a more expedient way for me to reach the pampas of Argentina. I don’t know why my magical guardian dog haunts those rolling plains, but I know I will not rest until I join him. Or die trying.

Jan 20, 2012

I like words so I will read your birdwords as third judge.

Jan 20, 2012

In, word please

Jan 20, 2012

Voodoofly posted:

Never done one of these, haven’t done creative writing In at least a decade. What is the penalty if I sign up but don’t submit? I have a big exam on Thursday so it’s possible I just disappear into a hole over the weekend and forget all about this.

If me failing to submit doesn’t gently caress over other people or really piss people off then word me. Otherwise I’ll wait till the next one.

if you don't submit you will be listed as a failure for the week in the results post and the Thunderdome archive, which is the greatest of shames in the eyes of the 'dome but practically speaking nothing bad actually happens

when in doubt, sign up and barf out a terrible story ten minutes before the deadline, like the rest of us

Jan 20, 2012

Week 466 Threatening Birds crits

Lawyers In Space

So I’ll cop to it right up front: I didn’t read the whole title and spent too much of this story wondering what this person wanted and where they were going. I’d say that’s 80% shame-on-me, but I’ll also say I’m not a big fan of the “explain what your story is about in the title” TD tradition. Reading it blind, as it were, I felt like the lede was buried a little too far into the story to work on its own, and would have liked a little more sense of what Jiiana wanted earlier in the story. If I’d read the parenthetical part of the title, I wouldn’t be lost, but it was also kind of an unsatisfying way for me to engage with the story as a reader.

Okay! That grumble aside, I enjoyed this a lot. I tend to bounce off of setting-heavy TD entries that hang on sci-fi jargon, but I think this was the right mix of silly and sci-fi for the length. The lawyerly ship operations cracked me up, and everything to do with the metasapience had a Douglas Adams-esque feeling of straight-faced ridiculousness that worked really well for me. I may have been a little lost at the start of this story, but I was never bored, at first because I was puzzling out wtf the legalese had to do with spaceflight (which was fun) and later because I was invested. Was this story upbeat/feel-good? Ehh, maybe right at the end, sort of. Did it make me feel upbeat or good? Definitely.

Ops, I did it Again

I think you undercut yourself right off the bat in this story. It’s hard to be interested or engaged in a character whose main motivation is to not be bored. It’s boring watching someone be bored. I liked the general concept here, the idea of someone playing out wargame solutions and accidentally bombing some stuff (though that does sound a lot like the movie Wargames). I think you could effectively open on that already happening, with the main character already in process of playing out the wargames and getting more quickly to launching nukes.

As is, you have a sort of top-heavy story, where we get a lot of the MC being bored, and too much unnecessary background on the planet (I skimmed most of that paragraph if I’m honest, there was too much of it and if I’m honest very little of it was necessary or relevant). Then the meat of the story-- launching nukes, solving the crisis, the captain saying it solved everything-- was too rushed and felt very incidental. I’d have rather seen the nukes launched in the first third of the story and read about the MC trying to figure out what to do about the crisis they’d caused for the rest of the story. It’s an old TD adage but it’s often true: start where the action is. If you’re economical about your text, you can tell us all the background we need to know as the story is happening without spending a lot of words on straight exposition.

Cassie’s Not A Pet.

This was a solid entry overall. Clear conflict, good resolution, good pacing for the length. If I have a criticism, it’s that for me Elizabeth was a little too vague of a character-- I didn’t get a clear sense of how old she was supposed to be, and her dialogue came off to me as more pretentious than precocious in a way that further confused the issue. The mother, too, felt a little too distanced from the action to me, which makes the story feel more like her after-the-fact recounting of events in a sanitized or simplified way, rather than action that was unfolding in the moment. That’s not an issue per se, but I think a clearer sense of who the mother is as a character would have given some extra depth to the story. I get what she wants (and does not want) but I don’t have a clear picture of what sort of person she is beyond that.

Rebecks’ Gift

Overall this was okay. Right off the bat, I think this was a little too much on the heightened/wordy side of things for my taste, and I’m not sure the elevated language really did much for the story. Similarly, I think the middle of the story really dragged from taking the time to give us background on the characters that could have been more effectively weaved into the action. Does it matter that Rebecks is big and Sky is small? Sort of, yeah, since it means Sky fits through the brush more easily. But that’s about the extent to which it matters to the action of the story. The fact that Rebecks is huge and nobody knew how big he’d be when they found him as a chick or whatever, or that Sky got picked on for being small, are both interesting tidbits that should inform how you write the characters and their interactions, but I think both warrant only the slightest mention in the story at large, and only when it’s relevant to the immediate action of the story.

As is, the action is a little flat. They want something, they try to get it, there’s an obstacle, they overcome it. That may be all the dry ingredients of a story, but it was sort of unsatisfying to read. Another complication in there might have helped, and I think you would have had room for it without some of the extraneous description and backstory taking up oxygen earlier in the story. Overall I think all the pieces were here, and with a little juice this could have been pretty solid, but there’s a lot of trimming needed to get down to the parts of the story that are genuinely interesting.


This is the first story this week that actually grabbed me in the opening paragraph. Loved it. Loved the story in general, honestly. I appreciate how you lay out what’s going on immediately, and the rest of the story is an exploration of the consequences of that inciting incident. This was really solid use of a small wordcount, and I finished the story feeling satisfied in a way unique to this piece, if that makes sense.

If I had to offer any criticism, it’s that I wanted more of Mallory. I feel like we get a sense of her character, sometimes obliquely through her response to events or things Jason says, but even just one or two slightly more concrete reflections of her would have been helpful. I think that’s getting into the territory of my personal preference rather than something I’d call a shortcoming of the story, though.

This also made me feel upbeat in a way that surprised me, so thank you for that.


This story really surprised me. Adventurous formats in a TD entry always feel like a gamble to me but I think this worked. Once the second POV became clear, I was expecting a Rashomon-type situation, where each character’s perspective of the situation is drastically different or outright incompatible. But instead, I got three similar-but-not-quite-identical perspectives, and the compelling part of the story was watching these characters try to get their viewpoints to slot together in a way that feels right and makes sense. I liked that, a lot, in a way I didn’t expect. I think you really effectively captured that feeling of knowing something isn’t right between you and someone you care about, and the sudden release of weight that comes from moving things even a slight step towards Okay.

I think the fact that the three characters did need or want very similar resolutions to that unbalance may have undercut their differences, though. It was easy to keep the characters straight from names alone, but each of the three sections felt like they had a very similar voice. I would have enjoyed a little more variation between them, and I think it would have added some color that would have elevated an already good story.

Deus ex Beakina

What is it with birds and sci-fi this week? Who knows. So there was lots of ship operation here, and I felt like it was all pretty competently written, but I’ll be honest: I was pretty bored throughout this story. I think there’s good flavor and you had some clear imagery, it felt like there was a spaceship here with a crew on it, but I never felt like I had enough of a fingerhold in any particular character or event or objective to really feel invested in what was going on. The ending was interesting but felt a little abrupt and unsupported. I think focusing on the signal and creating some mystery around it, and maybe finding a way for a particular character to be invested in reaching the signal, would have made the story hang together much better.

Master of Assassination (Majoring in Daggers)

Okay, this was fun. I was enjoying it just fine, then the twist hit and I was really into it. I think this struck the right balance between being surprising and going somewhere unexpected, but also having an ending that played out in a way that felt just a touch predictable, in a way that was satisfying and felt like it was rewarding my attention. I don’t have any real complaints about this story. Well done.

How To Make a New Friend

I’d call this story solid and okay. It didn’t wow me, but I was entertained throughout. I did lose track of the characters a few times and had to scroll up to reread some parts to keep them straight, but I think ultimately they ended up pretty interchangeable anyway. The heist felt a little perfunctory here, but the writing flowed well enough. Ultimately for my taste, I could have used more conflict and more engaging characters.

No Escape

I’m not sure what to make of this story, if I’m honest. It was funny, I was entertained! It also felt a little abrupt and awkward, in that buzzer-beater TD entry kind of way. This felt like the solid skeleton that was missing the meat of a more complete story, if I’m being honest. I think the pacing probably suffered the worst for that, though I also initially felt like I didn’t have a clear enough picture of Moira as a character, too. Then the story sort of became more about Metatron, so some clarification of what or who the story was about would have helped. I’m not sure the gods’ involvement was quite justified either, though I understand how they fit into the story at large. I think with more clarity and connective tissue, there’s something really fun and funny here, but as is the individual bits don’t quite land for me.

Jan 20, 2012

In with the following, to start:

Tyrannosaurus posted:

Cake! +600 words
  • It’s someone's birthday!

Tyrannosaurus posted:

Pizza! +300 words
  • Tyrannosaurus names one of your major characters
  • Antivehicular gives you a inspirational webcomic

also I'd request Achewood and not Super Mega if that's allowed

Jan 20, 2012


Cake! +600 words
  • It’s someone's birthday!
Chips and Cookies! +200 words
  • You are limited to two locations.
Pizza! +300 words
  • Tyrannosaurus names one of your major characters: Rufino Mustang
  • Antivehicular gives you a inspirational webcomic:

The Fishmonger's Tale
1273 words

After a hot day and a miles-long trek out to the decrepit keep, the fish stank. Rufino did his best to keep the monstrous thing at arms-length, but it was heavy. Certainly heavier than the pike and walleye he usually traded in. He wasn’t even certain where the thing had come from, but whatever abyssal deep coughed it up wasn’t local. At least, he’d never come across a four-foot-long grey plank of ugly in his time as a fisherman.

Rufino wasn’t certain why anyone would want something quite so repulsive, but the letter said it was for a birthday, and those sorts of special orders were always good. Thus he found himself trudging through mud with a reeking sack of grotesque sea-meat as night fell. The note was very specific on that too, that the centerpiece of the feast should arrive no earlier than dusk. Wizards. Mad, every last one of them.

The tower came up on him faster than seemed right, sneaking over the horizon and jumping to land in his lap. Didn’t make the mud-trudge any less miserable, but at least it was done. Done is beautiful, Rufino always said. Or rather, the gold they give you when you’re done, that’s the beautiful bit. And this nutter in the tower had guaranteed the fish’s weight in gold. A good haul unto itself, as Rufino’s aching back and shoulders would protest. He didn’t want to consider how he was getting the gold home just then.

The tower was a sheer, unbroken expanse of stone. Or really, a pile of stone. “Pile” was the more fitting word for the particular level of grandeur the wizard’s spire evoked. A set of heavy wooden doors were the only way in, as far as Rufio could see. He’d always assumed doors were a bit passe for wizards. Why fiddle with a doorknob when you could bend time and space to put you where you please?

Rufino lowered the sack with the fish to rest on a relatively mud-free cobblestone and gripped a large brass knocker on the door, giving three sharp raps.

“Come in!” called a voice from inside. Come in? thought Rufino. Wasn’t very wizardly. Or really all that dignified in a non-wizardly sense. Shouldn’t there be a horrendous flesh construct to escort him to some aetherial orrery? Hells, he’d even take a cthonic lair. A self-serve entry to some ramshackle pile of rocks was not on the list of wizardly expectation.

Rufino sighed, shoved a door open, and shouldered his fishy burden. As his eyes adjusted to the moonlight gloom of the tower, he realized there was no roof or floors above to impede the moonlight. There really wasn’t much of anything. Wasn’t even a floor, which seemed particularly inhospitable, though at that point Rufino figured he should be happy there was even a wizard still about.

He, at least, struck the necessary wizardly image. Well over six feet tall, sporting a hoary beard that stretched at least half that, and a hat so tall and pointy one might wonder if he was compensating for something. Truly the figure of an imposing magister, and he even took the trouble to glow a bit. The sickly green light that seemed to roll off the wizard in waves illuminated a rough wooden table before him, and beyond that, a gaping hole. Rufino could hear the crash of the ocean from far below.

“Bring the specimen forth!” called the wizard. Before Rufino could move, he added “And watch where you walk. That first step can be a regrettable one.”

Rufino edged around, back pressed against the wall, fish clutched before him. It wasn’t entirely necessary given that there was enough room for two or three to walk abreast without risk of falling in the gaping maw, but he always thought it respectful to lend these situations the gravity they deserved. After what felt like eons, he reached the table and disgorged his sack. The monstrous fish flopped to the table with a fleshy splat.

In the blink of an eye, the wizard had drawn forth a knife and plunged it into the fish, carving out a chunk of flesh that could politely be called “outspoken”. He raised it up, chanting perverse syllables in some unpleasant language that made Rufino blush, despite not having any idea what was being said. The wizard opened his mouth, apparently to consume the fetid fishblob. Before he could stop himself, Rufino gagged.

The wizard eyed him with a look that could have withered an oak tree. “I do not presume to dictate to you the ways of flounders and seals--” (it did not seem fit to correct him in this moment) “--so I would ask you to leave to me the esoteric manoeuvres of arcane summonings, Mr. Mustang!”

Rufino was too busy trying to recall that Mustang was his own rarely-used surname to respond, and as a result entirely missed the wizard consuming the chunk of fish. Imagine, dear reader, a flamingo trying to swallow a golf ball and you’re most of the way there.

Following his impromptu meal, the wizard uttered forth more magical incantations, though in a voice more queasy than commanding. A thunderous rumble seemed to rise up out of the ocean and shake the very stones of the tower, sending some of the highest and smallest blocks tumbling to the water below.

Rufino cast about for something to steady himself, grabbing the table and holding on for dear life. With the next tremor, though, he overcorrected and sent the table tipping over. The wizard cried out in panic, diving for the remains of the fish that were about to tip off the table and into the maw below. In a moment of impromptu heroism that Rufino would retell in taverns for years and years, he leapt to grab the hem of the wizard’s robe before the magus could follow the fish down into the maw.

But in the way these things always seemed to go for Rufino, he firmly planted his foot on the fish-sack, which was still imbued with fish-goo and seawater, and promptly shot out from under his shoe like a malicious banana peel. Feeling that he’d given it his best effort and discretion is the better part of valor, Rufino let go of the wizard rather than follow him into the briny deep. As one last sign of respect, Rufino pointedly ignored the wizard’s dying howl as he plummeted hundreds of feet to the ocean. At least he died with some dignity.

There was a bare moment of silence, but since nature abhors that sort of thing, it was shattered by a monstrous roar. Rufino crawled to the edge of the pit, sticking his hand in something wet and unpleasant along the way. Apparently the wizard had managed to save the fish, if not himself. Not a bad fellow after all, Rufino thought. Peering down into the darkness, Rufino saw a trio of huge red eyes ringing a mouth of incredibly large teeth. Something grey and cracked floated nearby, and after a moment of scrutiny Rufino realized it was the shell of a gargantuan egg.

“Why, you’re just a wee bairn! Happy birthday, whatever you are. There was meant to be a wizard to meet you. Well, I guess he did meet you, in a way. Don’t worry though, I know all about the ways of flounders and seals, and we’ll take right good care of you.” And with that, Rufino picked up the horrendous fish and pitched it in the hole. He was met with a roar that he truly hoped meant “thank you.”

Jan 20, 2012

In and a photo please

Jan 20, 2012


The Attic
982 words

I climbed the rickety ladder up to the attic of my father’s house, counting out the familiar creaks like a rhythm inside my head. The attic was dingy, dark, and crowded. It was packed with cardboard boxes arranged in stumpy pyramids, interspersed with forgotten toys and furniture. It smelled like a mix of mildew and raw pine. Of all the rooms in the house, this one felt the most unchanged by Dad’s absence.

Emily sat in the middle of the dusty floor, a wisp of cobweb in her dark hair. I picked the silken strand from her hand, wiping it on my jeans. They were already covered in dust and grease and the thousand household tracks that accumulate in the process of packing and moving. Emily didn’t stir, just stared at the frame she clutched in her hands.

It was one of the few candid pictures of us and Dad, taken by our mother when she knew he wasn’t looking. He held me in his arms, a chubby little boy, barely a toddler, laughing at Emily as she perched on the couch behind him and circled her gangly arms around his neck in a backwards hug. He was smiling, carefree. Not an expression we saw often after Mom left.

I tried to speak, to navigate some sort of words around the choking feeling that was developing in my throat. “Why don’t you come downstairs? The pizza should get here any minute. And it can’t be good for you to just sit up here and dig through the past.”

“It’s our past, and someone has to dig through it at some point. It was always going to be me, so may as well get a jump on it,” she said. She laid the picture frame gently in the box in front of her and picked up another. I turned away. I knew if I looked into the well of the past, I’d drown as badly as she had.

“Why does it need to be you? Why does it need to be anyone?” I asked. “We can put these boxes in storage, we can go through them together, after we’ve had some… time.” I couldn’t think of the right words. It all sounded so insufficient. It sounded like a cop-out, an excuse to kick the can down the road. “You don’t have to stay here, buried away with all this stuff. We can sell the house. I think Dad expected us to sell. The place is falling apart.” I looked pointedly around the crumbling attic, with its torn insulation and cracked gable windows.

“And whose fault is that?” Emily asked, an edge to her voice. It was Dad’s, not mine, not hers. But saying that wouldn’t have changed anything. She stood, drawing close to me. I could see the tracks left on her cheeks by silent tears. “I’m not leaving precisely because it’s falling apart. I can’t stand to leave it this way. This was our home, his home. I won’t let it just crumble away, or sell it off to a developer who’ll knock it down to make room for a string of townhouses.” She sighed, a long ragged breath that dissipated her anger like an insubstantial cloud of steam.

“I know you can’t stay here with me. You need a life, I get that. You’ve delayed everything to see Dad through these last couple of years. I can’t tell you how proud I am that you’re still going to college.” Her voice broke. I broke too. Hot tears welled up in my eyes.

We’d put this off for ages, both of us insisting on being strong for the other. With a sob, I drew her into a hug. In between hitching breaths, I said, “Well I haven’t figured out my major yet, so don’t get too excited.”

She began to laugh, and sob. “You go. You’ll figure it out. Dad believed in you and I do too. I’m going to stay here, make this house beautiful again, like when we were kids. I’ll make it shine. And if you ever need anything, anything at all, you know where to find me.” She hugged me again, hard.

I heard a creak on the ladder behind me. Turning, I saw Neil’s bald head peek over the lip of the trap door. “Here you are!” he said, his voice a mix of relief and forced cheer. He was doing his best to stay positive, and I loved him all the more for it, even if he wasn’t very successful. “We’ve been looking all over for you. I didn’t even think to look up here. I was fairly sure this was all cleared out. What are you doing up here?”

I turned to look at the empty attic. It was clean, nearly spotless. Light flooded through the clean gable windows and glowed off of the whitewashed floorboards. “I was just remembering a conversation I had with Emily once. After our dad died.”

Neil seemed unsure what to do with that information. He climbed up the last few steps into the attic, ducking his tall frame under the ridgebeam. “You know, we don’t have to sell the place, right?” He raised a hand to cut off my response. “I know, we’ve been over it, but seriously. It wouldn’t add that much time to my commute. If it means that much to you to keep it in the family, I’m happy to live here.”

“No. We should sell it. Emily worked so hard to bring this place back to life, but I think some other family should have the chance to make this place they’re own. It’s not for me.”

“Too many memories?” He put an arm around my shoulder. The weight was comforting, familiar.

I nodded. “Too many ghosts.” I climbed down the creaking ladder for the last time, saying a quiet goodbye to Dad and Emily.


Jan 20, 2012


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