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My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Intelligent killer whale raiders for me!

My Shark Waifuu fucked around with this message at 08:41 on Feb 23, 2021

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My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





The Killers
Word count: 1259

“Tiiaan! Calf, stop looking at the loot and come here,” Grandmother whistled.

Guiltily, I flicked my tail and propelled myself up the surface. During the long journey south I'd taken to swimming alongside the loot barge pulled by Mother and Uncle, one eye fixed on its contents to the exclusion of all else.

"Sorry Grandmother," I said. I knew she wouldn't be interested, but I had a big mouth in more ways than one. "I was looking at the cases again, and from what Skagit told me-"

Grandmother huffed, sending a spout of water flying. "You need to spend less time with that sasquatch."

"I told you, he's a gorilla, Grandmother."

"He's an ape that lives in the forest, therefore he's a sasquatch. Besides, when has that worthless land-dweller knowledge come in handy?"

I began to protest but she turned vertically, keeping her large head topside with no visible effort. She was black as obsidian against the too-bright sky. Arguing further would be pointless.

"It won't help you out here in the middle of the ocean, that's for sure. Now, what do you see?"

I spyhopped alongside her, oval fins waving to balance myself. "I see light waves, a warm southeasterly wind. It smells … sweet?' I rotated awkwardly. "Oh! That white cloud sitting on the horizon. Is that it?"

Grandmother clicked an affirmative as she slid back beneath the waves. A few lengths away, my older brother Kun breached with joy. "I knew it!" he squealed. Mother whistled happily while Uncle just rumbled, but both increased the speed of their tail strokes. Our journey was near its end.

"Until we arrive, study the sea as much as you study that human junk," Grandmother instructed. "You'll have to lead the pod to the market someday, you know."

That someday was likely fifty years away. "I know," I said, rolling my eyes but doing as I was told.

Later that day we reached the remote archipelago of smoking islands. Creatures from around the world gathered to trade in this neutral location, especially those who had goods of dubious origins. While some loot was salvaged from old human wrecks, the raider clans also got newer, more valuable items by capsizing boats that crossed our territory. Their crews may be fearsome tiger warriors on land but we drowned them easily in the cold water.

I'd never seen anything like the market, which was a maze of docks built over the warm water. Mother and Uncle positioned the barge in our slot and a bear lowered a gangplank. Once it was in place, they swam away to refuel on fish and scout out the market. Brother Kun circled the barge, dorsal fin cutting the water, on guard for thieves. We were in a pirate port after all.

Grandmother set herself up by the gangplank, head poking up to see the land-dwellers walking past. Her white eye patches glowed in the sun, attracting attention. Before long we had our first prospective customer: an ape with fur the same orange as sea urchin flesh and a surfboard under his arm. He boarded the barge and began to pick through the piles of goods.

"Woah, what's this?" He held up a long stick with a spray of metal prongs on one end.

"Ah, good eye my friend," Grandmother exclaimed. "That is one of our prize backscratchers, you can't find one better! Quality materials, and you can scratch your own back or that of a friend up to a meter away. You orangutans like grooming each other, yes?"

"Yeah …" The orangutan looked a little unconvinced but pulled out a handful of coins. "I'll give you five for it."

"It's yours for seven," Grandmother said.

"OK, six." Grandmother bobbed and the orangutan put the coins into our lockbox. Brother watched him keenly to make sure he didn't cheat us.

"See how it's done, Tiiaan?" Grandmother said when the ape left.

"I do, but that was a rake, not a backscratcher."

Grandmother waved her fin. "Rake, backscratcher, it makes no difference with these human things. The land-dwellers can use it how they like, so long as they pay according to that value."

I saw the logic in that; the important thing was to sell enough to buy the reinforced armor and spiked rams the pod needed to take on larger, more fortified ships. I watched as Grandmother sold a tire to a leopard as a chair and a pair of forks to a rat as weapons that attached to his forearms. She spoke so convincingly that I began to doubt myself. Maybe my sasquatch friend had lied, played a trick on a young whale?

Kun was expounding on the deliciousness of the local sea turtles when I overheard Grandmother say, "-perfect toys for your little ones!" I didn't recall seeing any toys on the barge, so I poked my head topside. My eyes widened when I saw a pair of lions, golden as a sunset, holding small spheres with a pin stuck through the cap. By the way the female lion was gingerly handling hers, I suspected she knew what they were.

"Toys, eh?" the male one said, taking a closer look and fiddling with the pin.

"We do have many cubs that would love them, but we can only give you ten coins for the entire case," said the female, feigning regret.

Grandmother's eye gleamed at the thought of making a quick sale until I butted in, squealing, "We both know those grenades are worth a lot more than that."

Grandmother splashed me. "Don't mind my grandcalf, she thinks she knows everything about human artifacts."

The lions laughed along until I said, "If it's just a toy, you should pull out the pin."

Kun, who swam past to see what the fuss was about, backed me up. "Oh yes, I've been curious to see what they do."

Grandmother noticed the glares the lions were giving us. "Go on, do it. That one's on us."

The lions looked at each other. The female shook her head but the male said, "How bad could it be?"

He drew the pin.

I let out an ear-splitting whistle and dove under the barge. As I did, I heard the female growl at the male before she snatched the grenade and lobbed it into the sea.

Grandmother had followed me and was about to give me a scolding for the ages when the explosion struck, knocking out our breath. Disoriented, I spluttered as I inhaled water before Grandmother pushed me to the surface as if I was a baby calf.

When we recovered, we saw that the lions had tried to escape, clutching the case of grenades. However, they were stymied by Brother Kun, who'd knocked away the gangplank when he saw that they'd be trouble. He positioned himself between the lions and the dock, baring his powerful teeth in a wide smile.

The lions roared, but, faced with three annoyed and slightly deaf killer whales, put down the case. "Let's continue negotiating," said the female.

Grandmother's geniality returned quickly. "Now, a human weapon! That would help in your war against the tigers, no?" She turned to me. "Tiiaan, you're the expert. How much are they worth?"

"Well, Grandmother, you taught me to price things according to their value to the customer. So I think we'll start at eight hundred for the case."

The male snarled until I added, "If you don't like it, you can take your chances swimming."

The barge Mother and Uncle towed home was heavier than ever before.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Nailed the word count with a topic near and dear to my heart!

FOR THE LAST loving TIME, A HOTDOG IS NOT A SANDWICH. ONLY DUMB rear end BUFFOONS LIKE YOU, RAISED ON MEMES AND DOUBLE DOWNS, COULD POSSIBLY BELIEVE SUCH A THING. YOUR GENERATION COULD BE SOLVING CLIMATE CHANGE OR CANCER, BUT INSTEAD YOU TERMINALLY ONLINE MORONS FOCUS ON THIS poo poo. OKAY. LET ME LAY IT OUT TO YOU IN THREE EASY STEPS, IF YOUR STUNTED MILLENNIAL ATTENTION SPAN MAKES IT THAT FAR. STOP ME IF I USE ANY BIG WORDS YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND, LIKE UNEQUIVOCAL OR FRANKFURTER.

ONE: HOTDOGS ARE ROUND. I KNOW YOUR DICK COMPARES UNFAVORABLY TO THE AVERAGE BALLPARK DOG, BUT AT LEAST IT ISN'T FLAT OR SHREDDED LIKE PROPER SANDWICH MEAT. (I ASSUME; IF IT IS, CONDOLENCES.) DON'T TALK TO ME ABOUT MEATBALLS, THOSE ARE OBVIOUSLY DIFFERENT YOU FUCKWIT.

TWO: HOTDOGS ARE VERTICAL. FOR THOSE OF YOU THAT HAD TO REPEAT THIRD GRADE, THAT MEANS THE EDGES OF THE BUN GO UP AND DOWN NOT SIDE TO SIDE. I DON'T GIVE A gently caress ABOUT FROOFY SANDWICHES SERVED UPRIGHT AT PRETENTIOUS CAFES, IT'S ABOUT HOW IT'S EATEN. WHO TURNS THEIR HOTDOGS SIDEWAYS TO EAT THEM? PSYCHOPATHS, THAT'S WHO. SAME WITH TACOS, YOU GOT TO MOVE YOUR STUPID PIEHOLE TO EAT IT SO YOU DON'T GET MUSTARD ALL OVER YOUR CROTCH.

THREE: SETTING, MOTHERFUCKER. YOU EVER HAD A SANDWICH AT A BARBECUE? AT A STADIUM? AND NO, THE PB&J YOUR MOM PACKED FOR YOUR PICKY rear end DOESN'T COUNT. SANDWICHES ARE FOR EATING WHILE WEEPING ON YOUR KEYBOARD IN YOUR BORING rear end CUBICLE. HOTDOGS ARE MEANT TO BE EATEN IN HOLY COMMUNION WITH OTHER RED-BLOODED AMERICANS. AND YOU BETTER BE EATING THAT poo poo OUTSIDE AS GOD AND OSCAR MEYER INTENDED.

IN CONCLUSION, gently caress YOU. I REST MY CASE.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Oh, this week's prompt is well out of my comfort zone! In, "He is not so devil as he is black."

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Transcript of Professor John Reckitt's speech in Stockholm, Sweden
Word count: 1766

Ladies and gentlemen, before we go any further, I have a confession to make. I sold my soul to the devil.

[Audience murmurs]

I know, I know. To be fair, I didn't know he was the devil, at first. In fact, I thought he was my guardian angel. Maybe you've read about my homeless beginnings in my autobiography, but my editors cleaned it up a bit. The truth is that I was addicted to cocaine. Am still addicted, but anyway. One night, I was sitting with my cup outside McDonald's. It was so cold I couldn't feel the cold anymore, and I was so hungry I didn't feel hunger anymore either. I simply existed, waiting for enough coins to fall into my cup to get my next hit. Or maybe a coffee.

But I digress; sorry, I should've prepared these remarks ahead of time.

The man, the devil, came up to me. I can't remember what he looked like, if you can believe it. But I remember his voice, what he said. He said, in a smooth deep baritone, "Hey man, how are you doing?" I just gestured with my cup. He said, "Yeah, I've been where you are, man. It sucks but you can get out of it, if someone believes in you." I look at him like he's crazy, and then he hands me a hundred dollar bill. I take it without thinking, never imagining the cost. Who would? I don't think I'd ever seen so much money before at one time. He says, "I believe in you," then disappears into the McDonald's. I sit there, dumbstruck, then I dash away, hiding the bill deep in my clothes. The fear had already set in, you see.

The next morning I buy some drugs, some food, and, on a whim, a lottery ticket. With the rest I decide to rent a hotel room for the night and do normal people things like take a shower and sleep in a bed. I was watching TV for the first time in months when they announced the winning numbers. They are mine. I scream so loud housekeeping comes to check on me. I eat everything in the minifridge and give thanks to God for my angel. It was the happiest day of my life.

I couldn't sleep all night. In the morning I buy some crack and get blissfully high, and while high I decide I want to be a success. I wanted to prove to the angel that he was right to put his trust in me. But that day, the seed, the devil's price, was planted in me. As I walked to the bank to set up an account, I passed a homeless woman. I didn't meet her eyes, but I couldn't stop thinking, "Why me, of all people?"

In my mind, the first step on the road to success was finishing college. I'd dropped out a few years ago when I discovered that drugs and partying were more fun than studying. But being homeless isn't worth it; stay in school kids! Anyway, I wanted to start over so I applied to a few places while I lived in the hotel. Somehow I got accepted to the best one; turns out personal essays about being a homeless druggie demonstrate "valuable life experience" to admission officers. I didn't quite believe it; surely there was a first-generation student with far better grades than me who deserved the spot more. But I shoved that thought, that sprouting of doubt, away. Who was I to argue? They wanted me, that's what mattered.

I moved to Boston, by which I mean I caught a Greyhound bus with my backpack, and started my studies. As it turned out, the whole "life experience" thing was accurate: the 18 year old freshmen seemed like children to me, while at 25, I was impossibly old to them. Sure, I went to parties, flirted with the sorority girls, but I was always just the creepy older guy. None of these trust fund kids, from happy families, had anything in common with me. The loneliness was a blessing. I had nothing else to do, no one to get high with, so I focused on my studies. Who needs friends when you have organic chemistry, I told myself. This is what succeeding looks like. But for some reason I always felt bad, guilty almost, when I got better grades than my classmates.

I graduated in three years, but I then ran into a problem. You see, I'd never had a job and the thought of going out into the real world and getting one was terrifying. My lottery money wouldn't sustain me for long and, above all else, I feared rejection and ending up back on the streets. Who would hire someone with my spotty resume? What would my angel think? In reality it was the doubt, the devil's seed, holding me in place with its tendrils. I couldn't leave academia, so I applied for PhD programs. I felt relief, not happiness, when I got in.

Those were some of the hardest years of my life. I worked twelve hour days in the lab, researching and writing in my spare time. I started doing cocaine again. I remember the terror I felt when I first had to teach an undergrad class: my palms were so sweaty and shaky I was sure I would drop my notes. I looked out on the bored faces of these rich kids and thought, "I don't belong here." But I decided to fake it. Fake it until you make it. I began to speak, projecting as much confidence as I could, and a miracle occurred. They listened to me! They hung on every word I said, scribbling them into notebooks or typing them on expensive laptops. By the end of the class I felt high on their attention.

After a few years, I discovered phased chirality and wrote my thesis on its applications for cell inhibitors. Pharmaceutical companies were knocking down my door but despite this validation, I felt unfulfilled. I'd grown a tolerance to others' respect; it was now less of a miracle and more a curse, a spotlight exposing me to the world. What sort of angel gives success but not happiness?

I needed to do more, I thought, to prove myself worthy. I remembered the old adage, "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach." I felt like I couldn't do it, make it in the real world, as I'd already failed there once before. Therefore, I took up a professorship at the university. I could do the research and the teaching well enough, but I was apprehensive about taking on PhD students. My own advisor had been distant and I felt I didn't have much more to offer.

However, I was fortunate. She was the first student I was assigned, and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. She was highly intelligent, a ferocious researcher, and stunningly beautiful to boot. Advising her, talking to her, it was pure joy. I should have kept it professional, I tried, but when she flirted with me I couldn't help but flirt back. I know many of you already suspected: yes, we were in a relationship. Secret, of course, because of my position, but I was the lucky one; someone like me didn't deserve someone like her. Those days were the happiest and most productive of my career.

The next part is why we're all here tonight. The discovery of the cure to cancer.

[Audience breaks out in applause]

Yes, thank you. The world called it our discovery, but I have to be honest … I guess I can tell you now: it was her who did it, who synthesized it, who ran the analyses. I was just there to advise, but she didn't need advising, so I was just there. God, that hurts to admit, especially with what happened afterwards. We wrote papers, went to conferences, then on TV. Everyone assumed I was part of it, as her advisor, that it was a team effort. I couldn't admit that it wasn't. The validation, however misplaced, was intoxicating. And, you know, I did understand it all. I could give the talks, do the interviews. She encouraged it, was far too modest, and I began to believe I deserved this. After all, I was the teacher, she was the student. I enjoyed the fame, the recognition. Aren't you proud of me, angel? Against all odds, I succeeded. But deep down, I knew I didn't deserve it.

Then something changed. She talked to her friends, or read a book on feminism, or something, and all of a sudden she wanted to give the keynote at the International Chemistry Conference. This was the pinnacle of our careers (up until now) and I wanted it. Wanted to be the one in front of the auditorium, the press, soaking up the applause and flashbulbs. Succeeding. Once people saw her brilliance, they'd forget all about me. My confidence, which was always built on a foundation of sand, melted away. The devil's curse, the vines of doubt and insecurity, resurged, choked me, made me blind to what was fair and right.

We fought. She said she felt like she got none of the credit, I said she never took the credit. She threatened to expose our relationship, I threatened to get her kicked out of the PhD program. I was high; I didn't mean that. Like any university in the world wouldn't take her in a heartbeat. What happened next … the police ruled it was an accident. My lawyers would advise me to say it was an accident. All the same, I know I am responsible. I can hear the crack, see the blood smearing the corner of the coffee table and pooling on the floor, and somehow the thing that springs to mind, before I even think to call 911, is that hundred dollar bill. And I know then that the man was no angel, but a devil who came to set me on this accursed path. In exchange for one hundred dollars and more than my fair share of luck, I lost my soul, my faith, my love.

[Silence]

A year to the day, I get the call. As well you know, they don't award Nobel Prizes posthumously so I am the only recipient. And so here I am. But I hope you know now why I don't deserve this, and can't accept it. Thank you.

[Audience erupts into noise, Professor Reckitt exits the stage]

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





I'm in!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





How to convince my ex-girlfriend's boyfriend to sleep with us?
Word count: 977

No, this isn't a sex/poly thing.

I'd been dating my girlfriend (23f), who I'll call Stacey, since we met while larping two years ago. After university, she moved back in with her mum and her mum's boyfriend. Though they seemed cool, Stacey never invited me over to their house. It wasn't a big deal at first but as we became more serious, I got more curious. I told her I didn't care if her family were hoarders or whatever, I wanted to see where she lived. She told me not to worry and that it was just easier to hang out at my flat.

After a while she refused to talk about it. I was going crazy (Maybe they were nudists! Maybe they had a weird bone collection!) so I just had to find out. I did a little stalking to find her address. When I showed up, her mum, who I'll call Betty (40f), answered the door and graciously welcomed me in. Stacey was pissed but got over it as I'd brought her favourite boxed wine. We all spent a lovely day together and everything seemed super normal. However, after dinner Stacey was keen to go back to my place. We'd both been drinking a lot so I asked if I could stay over instead. Betty and her boyfriend had no problem with that but Stacey clearly did.

When we went to bed, I found out why. It turns out Stacey's family sleeps together in one huge bed in a heap of blankets and pillows, like a big rat nest. Obviously this creeped me out and I wanted to sleep on the couch, but Stacey got all defensive. She said she "can't even deal" with my judginess and that's why she didn't want to tell me earlier. She said it was important to her culture (she's white??) and if I didn't want to sleep with her family our relationship wouldn't work out long-term. Betty and her boyfriend encouraged me to give it a go (not in a creepy way). I really loved Stacey and thought how bad could one night be, so I gave in.

I curled up on the edge of the bed, trying not to touch anyone but my girlfriend, but in the morning, I woke up and found I was spooning her mum! I was so embarrassed that I tried to leave right away, but Betty came downstairs before I could go. I could barely look her in the eyes as I apologised. She said it was fine as she believes sleeping together "aligns our energies" and was happy that I was now more in tune with the family. She made me feel better; I guess the energy thing worked.

I kept in contact with Betty, texting each other memes and links and stuff. After about a year of this, we realised we'd fallen in love. In the meantime, Stacey seemed happy that we got on so well, though she still preferred spending the night at my flat (easier to have sexy times). I felt guilty for drifting away from her, so Betty and I decided to break up with our partners. Stacey was devastated and Betty tried to comfort her as mums do, but obviously Stacey became furious with her once she found out that we were together. They had a huge row and Betty kicked her out after Stacey called her a c**t. That broke Betty's heart as her and Stacey had always been super close.

Things were good for a few months. I moved in with Betty since she was lonely and we enjoyed having the big bed to ourselves (wink). But one day Stacey showed up in tears. She was pregnant… and I was the father! She admitted to going off her pills as a last-ditch attempt to save our relationship, which is crazy as she knows I'm childfree. However, she only found out now that it had worked and wanted to reconcile with us (mostly her mum) so we could support her pregnancy. I was shocked, to say the least. I insisted on a paternity test, especially after I found out she'd gotten back together with an ex, but the kid was mine.

Betty was thrilled to be a granny so when Stacey and her ex, who I'll call Chad (24m), lost their jobs due to covid, she basically begged them to stay with us. I was against this plan but as Betty pointed out, it's her house. Stacey was swayed by the idea of free babysitting and I warmed to the idea of meeting my biological son, so she, Chad, and Junior (0m) moved in. I was surprised Chad hadn't dumped her until Betty explained that he always wanted kids but was unable to after a horse-related accident. Stacey and Junior started sleeping with us of course (don't DM me, the baby chiropractor says it's fine). However, Chad rudely refuses and sleeps on the couch.

This makes Betty sad as she'd like to "align" with her son-in-law, and it makes Stacey sad as she wants him to bond more with Junior and her mum. Junior and I don't care either way, but Betty has asked me to help convince Chad to sleep with us. I tried by telling him that sleeping together was warm and cozy and easy to get used to, but he just rolled his eyes at me as usual. I'm at a loss.

Tldr: what arguments would you use to convince someone to sleep with his girlfriend, child, mother-in-law, and girlfriend's ex-boyfriend (non-sexually)?

Update: your suggestions worked, thanks Reddit! (Haters, please open your minds, we're not that weird). Chad and I are getting along better after a few accidental cuddles in bed, but he's also a lot closer with Betty now and I'm jealous of the attention she's been giving him. Help??

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





In with https://scienceblog.com/521606/icecube-spots-first-ultra-high-energy-antineutrino-directly-observed-on-earth/

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Flashpoint
Word count: 1459
https://scienceblog.com/521606/icecube-spots-first-ultra-high-energy-antineutrino-directly-observed-on-earth/

Nyx shot through space, his ship surfing from neutrino to neutrino to achieve faster-than-light speed. His heart was light: after thousands of sleep cycles exploring a barren sector of deep space, he was heading home to Pluto. The thrill of discovery, of being the first to see a nebula or a baby star, had worn off halfway through his mission. He longed for the routine comforts of home, of talking to loved ones without holographic distortion. Nyx was daydreaming about non-dehydrated food when his stomach lurched violently as if he'd missed a step. His eyes snapped to the control panel, which told him the ship had fallen out of phase while connecting to the next neutrino and was now plummeting towards the axis of the third planet. Panicked, he fumbled for the emergency landing button. The only reason to miss a neutrino was if it interacted with other matter, and the odds of that were absurdly small. But of course, it had to happen on his journey home. Nyx cried out in frustration inside the fortified life pod as the ship smashed into the ice, far above where the neutrino had annihilated in a silent flash of light.

Hannah thought there'd be penguins, but soon learned that penguins don't live at the South Pole. Nothing much lives here, except her fellow scientists at the research station. She worked at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, researching energy signatures. Though trillions of neutrinos passed through the Earth every second, they only rarely interacted with matter, giving off a telltale flash when they did. IceCube's sensors looked for these flashes and Hannah looked at the sensor data. She'd written a program to filter out false positives, which unfortunately just gave her more free time alone in the lab. Her heart sank as she checked her email yet again. James hadn't responded. She knew she shouldn't, but to kill time she sent him another message: Hey, how's it going at McMurdo? It's boring here, especially without you. Let me know if you can visit next month! She regretted it the instant it was sent. Too desperate, she thought. When she turned back to the monitor, her heart leaped. A neutrino event!

Nyx emerged from the pod into a silent white world. Compared to Pluto and the vacuum of space, it was rather warm, so he stripped off the outer layers of his spacesuit. The snow crunched under his paws; he hoped there was no one to hear. From a lecture on pre-spaceflight species, he recalled the inhabitants of the third planet were called humans. If they discovered him, he’d be in violation of multiple interplanetary treaties. He turned to his ship to see if he could escape. No chance. The ship was disemboweled, its guts scattered over the pristine snow. Luckily the transmitter was intact, but its power cell was gone. He climbed a nearby ridge to look for it and despaired. The snow had already swallowed much of the far-flung debris; it would take an unacceptably long time to locate the cell. However, on the plain below sat a collection of human buildings. They must have a power supply to survive out here. Let's hope it's strong enough, he thought as he gripped the transmitter and started sneaking towards the settlement.

Hannah first tried to find her supervisor, but he was sleeping through the false night of the Antarctic summer. Fine, she could do the analysis on her own. She ensured the data was recorded and stored properly in the station's servers. Next, she started a program to analyze the data, determining the energy, direction, and type of neutrino interaction. While it ran, Hannah checked her emails. Still nothing. James had been so affectionate during her three-day orientation at McMurdo, why was he freezing her out? Antarctica was lonely enough as it was. To distract from her heartache, she switched back to the program. The preliminary energy reading was higher than she'd ever seen. She double-checked the data, refreshed her email one last time (nothing), then wandered out to find the other scientists.

Nyx arrived at the station, hoping he hadn't been seen. He surveyed the buildings and soon spotted an open garage full of assorted vehicles, all far too big for Nyx to operate. Still, they must be powered. He climbed the wall shelves, finding a few wires, before hearing the clang of metal hitting concrete. Ducking behind what smelled like an oil barrel, Nyx peered out and saw his first human as it slid out from beneath a vehicle. The human plugged a lead into a box, pressed a button, and grumbled at the vehicle's resulting rattle. Aha, the box was a battery! Nyx's excitement turned to alarm as the human then walked straight towards him. He was considering how to incapacitate it when an interior door opened. A brown-haired female called to the male and his earpiece automatically translated: Hey, the detectors picked up a strange neutrino interaction, you're going to want to see this. Both humans disappeared into the building. Nyx emerged from behind the barrel, surprised. The humans could detect neutrino interactions? Maybe they weren't as primitive as once thought. He glanced around the garage, wondering what other secrets it held, but shook himself; the humans could return any time. He ran the wires to the battery, then connected them to the transmitter. It pulsed to life. Nyx quickly keyed in his message on the emergency frequency: Mayday. Requesting immediate evacuation and clean-up. Use near-field teleporter to evade pre-spaceflight beings. Requesting acknowledgement. He waited anxiously but there was no response. After several minutes, he heard movement inside the building and realized he couldn't stay longer. With a heavy heart, he disconnected the transmitter and hurried back over the snow, hoping that someone in the silent sky had heard him.

Hannah stood back, observing the other researchers discuss the neutrino event. She was preparing to jump into the fray when her phone buzzed. She swiped to look at the email, palms sweating. It was James. Stepping out into the quiet hallway, she took a deep breath and opened it. Hannah, you're a nice girl but I think our fling meant more to you than it did to me. Please don't email me again. It wasn't even signed. Stupid, Hannah told herself, eyes stinging. She couldn't face arguing about methodologies with her colleagues anymore, so she descended the stairs and stepped out into the Antarctic cold. Her feet carried her farther than she meant to go, climbing the ridge behind IceCube. She looked out over the buildings, which seemed like toys in the vastness of the white plain. At the horizon, the grey sky and grey land were indistinguishable. Lonely as a neutrino, she sat in the snow and tried not to cry lest the tears froze on her face.

Nyx was so wrapped up in his despair that he didn't spot the human until it was too late. He froze, staring. It was the female from the garage. She had definitely seen him, her watery eyes wide in shock. He needed to act, but was paralyzed with indecision. All his training told him that this couldn't happen, that explorers should observe but not interact. However, his curiosity rose against this instinct. Who was this human? What did she know about the universe? Would humans become the next spaceflight species? He searched her eyes for the answers. Defying orders, he set his earpiece to translate and raised his hand to her, but a rapid beeping interrupted him. No, he had so much more to learn! But he and the remains of his ship blinked away, teleported by his rescuers. As they rocketed home to Pluto, part of his mind remained on the third planet, mulling over an interaction as fleeting as a neutrino annihilation but that had the potential to have been so much more.

Hannah had tried to convince herself the figure in front of her was a penguin, but she couldn't reject this reality. The alien resembled a gangly, bipedal ferret around two feet tall. It wore a slim white spacesuit and helmet revealing blue fur and small tusks. It had looked at her, seeing her, staring into her very soul. Nothing had ever been so real. Just as she'd mustered the courage to speak, it had raised its hand in greeting. Then, it vanished in a flash. The remaining footprints in the snow assured Hannah she wasn't crazy, but of course she couldn't tell anyone. She laughed: a garden-variety breakup was nothing compared to seeing an alien! Out of all the people in the world, this extraordinary encounter was uniquely, solely hers. Smiling, she headed back to the station to continue her research, feeling much less alone.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Antivehicular posted:

gently caress it, I'm in. I've got this story in my head and I may as well write the drat thing.

:same:

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Kiara and The Everlasting Flame
1000 words

Midnight struck; Mel waited, first in line, as if on the edge of a precipice. She watched ravenously as bookstore employees ripped open the boxes, revealing the tenth and final book in Sandra Torsson's Elements of Avalar series, The Everlasting Flame. None of her friends had wanted to come along, but that didn't matter. She was cosplaying as the best character Kiara, the common girl who had learned magic, liberated the kingdom, and had an epic romance with the antihero Prince Ryal. Online quizzes had told Mel she was a Freyja, the plucky sorceress that befriended Kiara in book 3, The Crushing Ice, but they were wrong. She was (well, aspired to be) Kiara, beautiful and beloved by all, and inside the book she'd just breathlessly purchased was her happy ending.

At home, Mel grunted a response to her mom's sleepy "how was it, dear?", changed out of Kiara's armored dress, and settled in with tea and cookies. Obviously she couldn't wait until morning to start reading; she couldn't risk seeing a spoiler. Flipping straight to the first chapter, she dove into the story, drinking in the world of Avalar for the last time. Everything was perfect until, at the height of the climactic battle, Kiara's love, King Ryal, was slain by a stray arrow. Mel stopped reading, shocked, then forced herself to finish. The book ended with Kiara triumphant but ruling the kingdom by herself. Sleep-deprived and adrenaline-fueled, Mel closed the book and burst into tears. She'd cried at the beauty of Kiara and Ryal's wedding in book 9, The Furthest Sea, but these were tears of betrayal. How could Kiara, after everything she'd been through, end up alone?

No time to rest. Mel logged on to AvalarEscape and made a new thread venting her displeasure: Can you BELIEVE Ryal died? Poor Kiara! Another user vehemently disagreed. Probably one of those nerds who shipped Kiara and the vampire Tristan in book 7, The Angelic Blood, she thought. She responded in kind and watched, amazed, as her thread exploded with opinions. Mel led the charge; if the good and noble Kiara didn't deserve a happy ending, who did?

Her mom found her the next morning drooling on her keyboard and told Mel to do something productive for once. Mel sulked– defending her favorite characters online was worthwhile!– until she had an idea. She created a petition asking Sandra Torsson to change the book's ending in subsequent editions and felt a thrill as the names started pouring in; with one hundred thousand votes, the author would have to reply! A dedicated following sprang up around her to promote the petition on AvalarEscape and Twitter, and a shout-out from a popular Youtuber pushed it over the edge. Mel wrote a passionate series of tweets @SandraTorsson alongside the completed petition. She was Kiara in book 6, The Enchanted Forest, imploring the Mother Oak for a sliver of her heartwood.

The author tweeted a simple response: No. Mel was furious and embarrassed. For herself, for her followers, for Kiara and Ryal, she couldn't let her effort be for nothing. She replied to Sandra Torsson: With all due respect, you are a loving monster for killing off Ryal and leaving Kiara heartbroken #justice4ryal. Her followers retweeted her until #justice4ryal was trending. Mel felt fiercely righteous, like Kiara leading the revolution against the evil usurper in book 8, The Coiled Lightning. How could she be ignored now?

As it turned out, quite easily. The fervor around the book abated and her followers disappeared, leaving Mel alone to stew. But several months later, she spotted her chance: Sandra Torsson was on a panel at the nearby Tri-Cities Comic-Con. Mel strapped on her Kiara cosplay and sat through a boring hour of Subverting Expectations in Fantasy. Finally, the Q&A. Mel got into line, feeling like Kiara confronting the demon Balthazar in book 10. At the front, she clutched her copy of the book like a talisman. "Um. Not a question, just a comment." Someone groaned. "I just wanted to say, killing Ryal was really cruel. It made Kiara– it made me so sad, and it nearly ruined the whole series for me." Sandra Torsson looked down indifferently. Frustrated, Mel looked for the words that would touch her cold heart, but found none. Tears welled up as the usher tried to move her aside. Channeling Kiara's courage, she hurled her book towards the stage. "You bitch!" she yelled. Unfortunately, Mel had not been trained by mute monks as Kiara had in book 4, The Silent Storm, so the book fell pathetically short. Over the ruckus of the surprised audience, Sandra Torsson met her eyes and said, "To answer the implied question, please read the dedication. It…" She faltered. "It's been hard to talk about, but it informed a lot of the book's ending." Seeing the author so vulnerable, so human, made Mel uncomfortable. Before she could apologize, security hustled her away.

The guards threw her into a small room to wait for her mom to pick her up. They handed her book back, so she opened it to the first page: To Dad, who didn't live to see the end of the journey but supported every step of the way. Mel reflected, slowly realizing what an rear end she'd been. She loved the series for its realistic characters, but of course easy happy endings were for fairy tales. Real life, real people, were much less predictable; reason enough to savor them all the more. Sniffling, she resolved to serve her penance with dignity like the imprisoned Kiara in book 5, The Darkest Star. Or maybe she needed real heroes. Like Nelson Mandela.

Her mom arrived in a rush. "Mel! Are you okay?" She saw the guard. "Are you in trouble?"

"No, Mom, I'm fine. It's fine." Mel stood up and, on an impulse, held her mom's hand as they left the convention. "Let's go home, I've gotta change out of this costume. Want to go somewhere next weekend?"

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





gently caress yeah dragons! Fact me please :)

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





The Return of the Four Dragons
1493 words
Your dragon cannot tolerate the touch of solid matter. It is liquid, and it turns any environment it dwells in to liquid as well, heating solids and cooling gases.

Once upon a time, four dragons lived in the Eastern Sea: the Long Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Black Dragon, and the Pearl Dragon. They pitied the humans who were suffering from lack of rain and defied the Jade Emperor, who rules over the heavens and the earth, to bring water to the people. For their disobedience, the Jade Emperor imprisoned the dragons under a mountain. However, they used their power to escape and became the four great rivers: the Changjiang, the Huanghe, the Heilongjian, and the Zhujiang.

That was then, this is now.

The Long Dragon swam through his river, bemoaning its state. His body was made of pure water but the river was murky from foul-tasting chemicals and choked by disgusting garbage. He hated the feeling of dirty water on his body and he hated navigating around human trash while swimming in his own river. The dragons had vowed not to regret helping the humans thousands of years ago, but that vow got more difficult to uphold each decade.

Finally, the Long Dragon reached his destination: a small pool on one of the last untouched sections of the river. He stretched from bank to bank, letting the clean water run through him. Rejuvenated, he curled up in the pool for a nap under the pine trees, hoping to dream of the Eastern Sea. He heard some humans nearby, no doubt here to enjoy the area's natural beauty. Maybe they would honor him with a poem about the river, like the old days.

Splash!

The bicycle hit the Long Dragon on the head and sank through him to the bottom of the pool. He thrashed in revulsion and reared up to confront the culprit. "Who dares defile my river?" he roared.

Two teenage children stared at him, frozen in terror at the sight of an angry dragon made of churning water. The Long Dragon was furious: even the young disrespected him! Growling as he touched the metal, he hurled their bicycle over their heads into the forest, then turned to scold the teenagers. As he began to speak they screamed and ran away, leaving his pool quiet once again.

However, the Long Dragon's nap had been thoroughly ruined. The bicycle was the last straw: nowhere on the river was safe from the humans anymore. This lack of respect is intolerable, he thought; the humans must be shown the error of their ways. Gathering his power, he rushed upriver and pulled all the water behind him, leaving only a muddy riverbed from the mountain to the sea. Since his water form couldn't go underground, The Long Dragon melted the rock around him to become lava, coiled in the heart of the mountain.

The Mountain God soon noticed his visitor. He asked, "Long Dragon. You were once imprisoned here. Yet now you return?"

"Yes," the Long Dragon responded. "Those ungrateful humans have abused me for too long. They throw their trash into the river, assuming it disappears when it leaves their sight. They took me for granted, so I removed the river. Let them deal with their own garbage now!"

The Mountain God rumbled sympathetically, as he too knew the pain of human pollution. The Long Dragon's lava warmed the mountain and so the god welcomed his presence, but they weren't alone for long. The other three dragons had heard of the Long Dragon's actions and done the same, their lava forms flowing under the earth to join him.

"I still love the humans, but I cannot bear their ugly garbage," whined the Pearl Dragon.

"The dams and power plants sap all of my energy," moaned the Yellow Dragon.

"I cannot stand how close the humans built to my banks, I just want to be left alone," groused the Black Dragon.

"I appreciate your solidarity," the Long Dragon said. "Let us not return the rivers until the humans respect us once again."

They sat gossiping under the mountain as the humans began to suffer. Without the rivers, crops were not irrigated, dams generated no power, and people were thirsty. The humans' lamentations reached all the way to the Jade Emperor. Annoyed at the disturbance, he charged the Celestial Dragon– who was made of air just as the other dragons were made of water– with returning the dragons and thus the rivers.

The Mountain God informed them of the Celestial Dragon's arrival. The Long Dragon poked his lava head out of the top of the mountain.

"Oh esteemed dragon," said the Celestial Dragon. "Long ago you helped the humans by creating a river. Kindly do the same now. The Jade Emperor tires of their complaints; they interrupt his beloved fairy music."

"We will not, the humans no longer deserve our rivers," the Long Dragon said. Ignoring the Celestial Dragon's pleading, he retreated back into the mountain.

However, the Celestial Dragon did not give up so easily. He soon returned to address all four dragons. "Fearsome dragons, I have good tidings! The humans have cleared the riverbeds of garbage. The effort is led by the nation's youth, perhaps there is hope for the humans after all."

"Oh, that is wonderful!" said the Pearl Dragon. "Now that the ugliness is gone, I will return my river. The humans have suffered enough." Flowing from lava to water, she left to restore the Zhujiang.

Before long the Celestial Dragon returned again. "More good news, mighty dragons. Without the river's power, the humans have no use for dams and so have dismantled them."

"Good news indeed," said the Yellow Dragon. "Now I can swim freely in my own river." And he left to restore the Huanghe.

The Celestial Dragon returned again soon after. "Honored dragons, with the riverbeds free and clear, herds of fuzhu deer have made them their new home."

"Fuzhu trampling through my riverbed?" said the Black Dragon. "I must go chase them away." And she left to restore the Heilongjian.

Yet the Celestial Dragon still could not convince the Long Dragon. "I will not return until the humans show me respect," the Long Dragon huffed. "The Jade Emperor cannot punish me as I already dwell under the mountain. Now, leave me alone!"

“It is not you whose punishment I worry about,” muttered the Celestial Dragon as he left. Yet he did not return.

The Long Dragon was sleeping when the Mountain God informed him of more visitors. "Are they envoys from the Jade Emperor?" the Long Dragon asked suspiciously. "If so, I will burn them with my lava breath."

"No. They are humans," the Mountain God said.

The Long Dragon emerged from the top of the mountain to confront the humans. It was the two teenagers from the pond, and though they were face to snout with a dragon made of lava, they did not run. The Long Dragon admired their courage.

"Great dragon, we've come to ask you to bring back the Changjiang," said the older one. "We felt so bad after we threw the bicycle in your river that we organized a cleanup of the riverbed at our school."

"After the other rivers disappeared as well, we promoted the cleanup program nationwide," said the younger one. "One of the rivers returned but the others didn't, so we knew we hadn't done enough."

"We petitioned the government to decommission the dams and make the riverbeds protected areas, which brought back the other rivers," said the elder. "But the people along the Changjiang still suffer."

"We didn't know what else to do, but a wind shaped like a dragon came to us. It whispered that we should travel here and ask you in person," said the younger.

"Our grandmother knows all the old stories and told us to bring you a present, so here it is," said the elder. "A jar of water from the Eastern Sea. Please remember your kindness back then and return the river now."

Both humans bowed to the fiery dragon. "On behalf of all humans, we're sorry."

An apology! That's what he had been missing. The Long Dragon's anger towards humans was tempered. Maybe they weren't irredeemable; after all, these teenagers proved humans were capable of change. And they'd brought him a thoughtful gift.

"On behalf of the dragons, I accept your apology. You humans have learned to respect the mighty rivers," he said. He broke open the jar and, as he touched the seawater, turned from lava into water. Scooping the two teenagers onto his horns, he rushed down the riverbed, all the way from the mountain to the sea, refilling it with life-giving water. Once the mighty Changjiang flowed again, the Long Dragon traveled back upriver to deposit the teenagers at their home.

"Thank you, thank you!" they said.

"Remember, your work is not done," warned the Long Dragon. "Keep the rivers clean and tell your story so that the dragons and humans may live together happily." He bared his teeth, reminding the teenagers of his lava form. "Or else."

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





I (the poster formerly known as Baneling Butts) am in for ~~secrets~~ week!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Untitled (Blue and White)
995 words

After a long morning of evading the police, Steve entered the boss's warehouse in a foul mood. He found the cause of his problems at the center of a labyrinth of piled boxes: a slim white man known as, appropriately, Mr. White. Without the balaclava, Steve could see that his face was extremely punchable. He resisted the urge, if only because the boss wouldn't like it.

Mr. White smiled as he approached. "Hey Steve-o, glad to see you made it past the cops."

"No thanks to you, man," Steve growled. "Where's the boss?"

"On a call." Mr. White nodded towards the back room. "I know last night didn't go exactly right. When the alarm goes it's every man for himself, yeah?"

Steve had worked with cocky bastards like him before (usually car thieves), but they had the skills to back up their attitude.

"Yeah, but you're supposed to be good,” he said. “Someone who'd find a sensor between the frame and the painting."

Mr. White shrugged unapologetically. "You're the security guard and you didn't know. Plus, standards have changed since I retired. I only got back in the game for the Rothko, you know."

An excuse for everything. "Sure, man." Steve rolled his eyes, which Mr. White misinterpreted.

"I know the Rothko looks simple, 'my kid could paint that,' right? But this poo poo goes for millions. He's quite famous as one of the best artists of–"

"–abstract expressionism," said Steve. Mr. White looked surprised, so he added, "Not much to do on the night shift besides read plaques."

"Ah, of course." Steve was already tired of him, but Mr. White carried on. "Look, thanks for leading me right to it. That museum is a maze. Shame we couldn't nab more, but this should still be a nice chunk of change." He patted the tube resting on the table between them.

Steve nearly retorted that they could've gotten more if Mr. White had done his loving job when the boss stomped out from behind a wall of boxes.

"You better not have touched anything," the boss said. Steve had been the inside man for him on several previous jobs: a mechanic, a worker at a chemical warehouse, and so on. Art was a new field for them both.

"Nope, just chatting," Mr. White said.

"Well, stop it. You guys hosed up the exit, but you got the paintings, yeah?"

"Just the Rothko," Mr. White said shamelessly.

The boss grumbled. Steve held his breath as he unpacked the painting and squinted at it. "I don't recognize this one from the catalog," the boss said. "Steve, you sure this is the right one? I know all these colored ones look the same. Uh, no offense."

Steve exhaled and nodded. "That's the one."

The boss sighed and looked at the painting again. "Not sure I'll be able to sell it quick. You boys are gonna have to wait on your payment."

Steve started to protest; without payment, what was the point? However, Mr. White's argument was more effective. Holding a pistol, he put his hands on the table and stared the boss in the face. "I can just take it back if you don't want it," he drawled.

The boss straightened up, revealing a gun of his own. “I’ll pay you if and when I drat well please. And I’m not feeling very generous with an unknown painting and a botched job.”

The two men glared at each other. Steve shrank back; his day had been bad enough without getting shot by a white man. But when neither man showed signs of relenting, he ventured, “Even if it is an unknown painting, it’s still a Rothko, right? Surely that’s good enough for at least a down payment?”

“Normally yes, you're a good lad, Steve,” the boss said without taking his eyes off of Mr. White. “But this washed-up thief has been very disrespectful.”

"How about I apologize nicely?" said Mr. White, holstering his gun under his suit jacket. "I'm sorry, I don't react to not being paid well."

"And I don't react to threats well. I'll give you a partial payment, and you owe me another job," said the boss.

"Sounds good, I've got the bug again. Try for a Van Gogh next time, partner?" Mr. White winked at Steve.

"I need a vacation after all this," said Steve.

The boss barked a laugh and handed Steve a parcel of cash. "Get out of here, enjoy yourself."

#

The boss was much less friendly when he called Steve the next morning. News of the robbery had hit the papers: "Fake Rothko stolen from exhibition of countertop art. A case of mistaken identity?" Steve picked up, sipping a mimosa in the airport lounge.

"What the gently caress, Steve?" the boss said as a greeting. "You led him to the wrong loving painting, you motherfucker!"

"How do you know it's not Mr. White's fault?"

"Don't play dumb. That guy just laughed and told me to contact him if I wanted a real Rothko," the boss fumed. "It was your job to scout the museum."

"I did, the real Rothko is on the third floor." Steve hesitated, then continued. Not like he was planning to go back. "But I've got a secret to share, boss. All those nights in the museum, just me and the art, I started to get it, you know? Get why people spend a stupid amount of money for them. The art, the good stuff, it speaks to you, man. Unlocks emotions, thoughts, you didn't know you had in you. So yeah, I pointed him to the fake one. The real one deserves to be seen."

The boss had a lot of words to say about that, most threatening his life. Steve hung up; the PA system had just announced that first class for the flight to Paris was now boarding. He smiled as he picked up his bag, looking forward to appreciating some art in the light of day.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Fun, I'm in!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Noah posted:


Unfiltered (read: mean) line edits available by request, as time permits.


Hi, I'd like a line crit too please.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Territorial Animals
1496 words

"You're probably wondering why you're here," Detective Riley says. He reminds me of a myna bird, cool and confident. His partner Jones is more like a ruru, an owl grumpily watching from the sidelines.

"Yeah, of course," I say, sweating under the unnatural fluorescent lights. "I got your message through Facebook, but I'm really not sure what my activity on the bird identification pages has to do with anything. It's not a crime, right?" I have the stupid habit of babbling when I'm excited or nervous.

"No, we're actually asking for your help." Riley consults his notes. "Your eBird records indicate you're familiar with Okere Forest Reserve?"

I nod. "I've been searching the area for a kārearea, the New Zealand falcon, for the last two months."

He waves that away. "Great. Right on the edge of the reserve, a group of white supremacists have holed up. We need to get close to see what they're doing without attracting attention, so our plan is to go in as birdwatchers."

"Good excuse for the binoculars and telephoto lenses," says Jones.

"We'd like you to pose as our guide, leading us to the best overlook and covering any bird knowledge, in the unlikely event it becomes relevant."

I'm deeply flattered: most people change the subject when I talk about birds, yet here my knowledge is actually serving a practical purpose. And they're asking me, of all people. I agree without further thought. The world's first crime-fighting birder!

#

The day of the mission, the officers are encumbered by their cameras and tripods but I'm traveling light. Being in the bush is my meditation, where I can let go of myself to become one with the trees, the soil, the birds. As we walk through the podocarp forest, dappled sunlight falling through the kauri branches and tree ferns, I try to share my joy with Riley and Jones, telling them about the noisy iridescent tui and fat sleepy kererū that we pass. However, the officers are tense, all business. After Jones snaps at me, I lead them to the ridge in silence.

Relaxing under the manuka, I watch as the officers set up, aiming the camera at the hut in the valley below. Jones stares through her bins while Riley snaps photos. Now that I'm paying attention, I can faintly hear the gruff voices of men carried on the wind. I hope Riley and Jones are getting enough evidence to arrest these people. I remember reading about the incident in New York's Central Park, where the white lady with the off-leash dog threatened to call the police on the black birder, and feel outraged all over again. Who could be threatened by a birder?

A pīwakawaka interrupts my rambling thoughts. Though it's only a tiny ball of brown fluff and a large fanned tail, it fearlessly hops around me, peeping. Its white supercilium feathers form cute angry eyebrows. The bird loses interest in me and flits over to investigate Riley's camera.

"Hey," Riley says when he finally notices. "What's this bird doing?"

Ooh, an invitation to share my bird knowledge. "It's a pīwakawaka, or fantail. They're insectivorous and love to eat bugs that we disturb, or attract." Jones sniffs herself surreptitiously. "Plus, they're territorial, so this guy is just checking out what's new in his domain."

"Māori think they're messengers of death, though," Jones says.

I'm surprised she knows that. "Well, yes," I say, "but I've seen tons of them and I'm fine!"

Riley and Jones exchange a look, clearly disagreeing with me. Riley looks back through his camera. "drat, lost sight of them. They must've gone inside."

"We'll have to cut it short, then," Jones says, glowering at the fantail bobbing away. "Say goodbye to your bird friend."

I sigh, feeling like the pīwakawaka and I are responsible for losing the targets. As we head back down the ridge, the bush goes quiet. Through the trees I think I hear a thin keening cry. The kārearea? I want to investigate but the officers are in no mood to detour, so I have to content myself with watching the undergrowth for movement. I'm so fixated on the bush that I nearly run into Jones' back as we round a bend.

"Hey!" I say, then look around the officers to see why we've stopped. I freeze up like a bittern, reflexively trying to blend into the background. Three large scowling men and one growing Jack Russell terrier block our path. I note with disapproval that it's off-leash, distracting myself from the fact that the men have runic tattoos, shaved heads, and are holding metal pipes. I guess the white supremacists hadn't gone inside after all.

The largest man says, "Nice day for a walk?" The officers don't say anything. Oh right, I'm supposed to be the leader, to prove myself and my hobby useful. You can do this.

"Yep," I manage to say. The men don't move, so I continue talking. "I'm guiding these guys around the bush today. We've ticked twenty birds so far and are now looking for the kārearea. Have you seen it?" Keep it casual.

"The what? Speak English," says the man with the dog.

"The falcon. I, uh, think I heard it over there," I say, moving to go back the way we came. The men step forward. I stop, palms sweating.

The men turn their attention to the officers and their surveillance gear. Deep in the bush, some pōpokatea chatter. "Birdwatchers, eh? What bird's that then?" the shortest man asks them.

"A tui?" Riley guesses. I groan internally. Everyone knows the tui's distinctive, croaking song.

"Pretty sure it's not," the man says. The largest man takes another step towards them, hefting his pipe. "Let's see what birds you've taken pictures of."

"Those binoculars look expensive, let me see those too," says the short man.

"Nah, we should get going." My words are unconvincing even to me. As usual, I'm ignored as Riley clutches his camera, guarding the precious evidence. One of the men pokes at Jones with a pipe and she angrily bats it away. The men aren't intimidated and grin wolfishly as they move in. The officers are outnumbered and unarmed. Oh God, what if the pīwakawaka was a sign? My heart races at the imminent violence and I'm about to bolt, every birder for themselves, when I hear the cry again, much louder.

Kek kek kek!

The kārearea dives out of the trees, aiming its talons straight at the dog. The dog snaps but the falcon is far too fast. It wheels up, screams again, and comes back for another round.

"What the hell?" The man with the dog waves his arms, trying to keep the falcon at bay. The other men back up, distracted as they glance fearfully into the rimu canopy.

With the officers out of immediate danger, my excitement overrides my fear. "Oh, the kārearea must be nesting nearby! They're very protective of their territory," The short man stares at me, then covers his head as the falcon dive-bombs him.

The large man's attention starts to slide back to the officers, so I distract him the only way I know how. "See how small the falcon is? That means it's a male. The females are about a third larger."

"Shut up!" he said, glaring at me. Out of the corner of my eye I notice Riley taking some hip shots of the scene with his camera, so I ignore the man’s directive. It feels empowering, like I'm a real crime-fighter.

"They've been endangered for a while due to the loss of the native bush, but they're recovering. Did you hear about the falcons for grapes program down in Marlborough? The conservationists relocate falcons in the vineyards and the falcons keep the pest birds that eat the grapes under control. It's been really successful."

The men can’t figure out whether to look at me or the kārearea, and so give up entirely. "Bloody birds," the man with the dog mutters as he picks up the barking terrier and runs off, his mates lumbering after him and the kārearea swooping after them. In the sudden quiet, the officers stare at me as if I'd summoned the falcon from thin air.

"That was exciting!" I say, my adrenaline pumping from the encounter.

"Yeah," says Riley. He and Jones look more rattled than relieved. "Did you know it would do that?"

I'm happy ignoring the white supremacists too. "It's been known to happen, we were lucky to see it in person."

"Lucky it wasn't us," he says, but then continues. "You did well, keeping your head. Could be an actual birding guide, you know. Or a cop."

When I see he's serious, I grin like an idiot.

Jones, as always, is less impressed. "Great, yes, we saw a falcon. Now let's get out of here."

But nothing can dampen my glow as we walk back through the golden late afternoon light, tauhou softly twittering overhead.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Ain't Easy Being Green
342 words

Did you know there's two types of kakapo? It's true! There's the ones like me, moss-green and feathery, and there's the ones that are tall, with multicolored coats and stick-thin wings. To be honest they look more like trees than like me, but I love them all the same. The tall kakapo are our mothers: they raise us as chicks and continue to check on us and feed us even after we leave the nest to roam around the forest. They give us our names. I am Sirocco.

The kakapo mothers have given me a wonderful life, and so it's only natural that I want to help them by bringing the next generation into the world for them to raise. To do that, I know that I need to mate with one of them. That's just biology, but finding the right mate is difficult for kakapo. We're picky creatures. Most green kakapo wait literal years until the rimu fruits, then try to attract others with their booming calls. However, the mothers barely participate in this ritual, so I started to seek them out at other times, looking for my perfect mate.

Finally, a mate arrived! Two new tall kakapo arrived with one of my old mothers one day. One had a crooked beak, but the other, oh, he was perfect! A mossy green coat just like me and beautiful grey fur, the color of my beak. I strutted around him, playing it cool to see if he was interested in me. Before long, he bent down low to the ground, holding a black clicking box and moving in close to me. A clear invitation! I eagerly clambered up and began to mate. Unlike previous times, no mother immediately removed me. In fact, they gathered around, making happy cooing sounds. They approved! I rubbed on my mate as hard as I could to demonstrate my vitality. He and I would make strong chicks. Finally, my old mother removed me but I was satisfied. I had done my part in furthering the kakapo species.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Sorry for the bird erotica :parrot:

https://youtu.be/9T1vfsHYiKY

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





In, give me a present!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Supersymmetry
1798 words

Guy gazed at the future of particle physics, which took the form of a complex equation that filled his computer screen. He should be excited: in a few minutes, the Large Hadron Collider would fire at its highest energy yet, generating the data that would confirm or refute his theories on the electron's supersymmetric partner. But the summer heat, the drone of the inadequate air conditioner, and the three-hour coding session made him tired. He should just go home, yet it felt weird not being here for this, the culmination of five years of work. As a compromise, he logged on to the internal dashboard, watching the numbers and graphs shift as the control room brought the accelerator to life. The effect was hypnotic and Guy dozed off.

It didn't last. His chair dropped into freefall, jolting him awake, but he wasn't moving. Instead, the office stretched away from him like an image on silly putty. He flailed, trying to reach his phone, and his hand distorted in the same way. He snatched it back and curled up in his chair, fighting for breath. The air itself was flying away from him. It was entirely silent except for the blood rushing in his ears.

As suddenly as it started, it stopped. It appeared as if nothing had happened: there was the same desk, the same chair … but wasn't the cushion blue, not red? This discrepancy barely registered before a voice yelled from the doorway.

"What the gently caress?!"

He turned and saw himself. Well, a cool version of himself. This Guy wore jeans instead of khakis, held a mug of coffee instead of herbal tea, and had dreadlocks instead of closely clipped hair. Guy felt an atomic-level aversion to his doppelganger, as if they were two magnets repelling each other. By the look on the other Guy's face, the feeling was mutual.

"Wh- what happened?" he said. He had a splitting headache and his stomach was still churning from the event.

"Nothing. I left to get a coffee and came back to you in my seat. Who the hell are you?"

"I'm Guy, I'm a physicist at CERN."

"Yeah? So am I." The other Guy eyed him. "Where’d you come from?"

"Here. I was dozing at my desk, this desk, then everything went weird and stretchy. Maybe I'm just dreaming?"

Guy punched him in the nose.

"Ow! What the hell, man?"

"Would a dream do that? No, this is real." He paused, thinking, then asked, "Does CERN have a Schwarzschild limiter?"

His double was crazy. "A what? No, don't think so."

"Ah, it’s like my research! I bet you went through a wormhole into our universe. Our CERN was smart enough to prevent mini-wormholes from forming at high energy, but yours didn't."

Definitely crazy. Guy reached for another explanation but a ceiling tile suddenly gave way, crashing down beside him.

"drat old office," they both said in sync.

"Okay smarty pants, then what do we do? How can I get back to my own universe?" Guy's head was swimming.

"Pull yourself together, Guy Prime. That's what I'm gonna call you. Obviously we have to recreate the conditions and hope you don't get sucked into another universe entirely. I'll go talk to the controllers about shutting off the Schwarzschild limiter, you stay here. Being around you is giving me a headache."

Guy, or rather Guy Prime, was too disoriented to protest and so focused on not vomiting. He hoped the crazy Guy was right. Without warning, the chair collapsed underneath him and he yelled as a splinter stabbed his leg. A red-headed woman poked her head in the door.

"You okay? I heard a crash … oh!" She hesitated. "You're not Guy?"

Guy Prime thought as quickly as he could. He couldn't tell her the truth and risk delays as she and other scientists investigated him. He sensed, as he fought off another dizzy spell, that he couldn't survive long in this universe.

"I'm his twin brother, uh, Robert," he said, using his middle name.

"I'm Gemma. We need to get the nurse, that's a lot of blood." She hollered into the hallway as he tried not to pass out.

"They're on their way," she said. "Strange that Guy never mentioned his twin, you aren't close?"

*Nope," he croaked.

He was saved from further questioning by a man appearing in the doorway. "Smell that? There's a gas leak, we need to evacuate."

"Someone's got it out for you, Guy," Gemma said.

"This universe does," he said without thinking. Gemma looked at him strangely as she and the man hauled him up. The elevation change was too much and he blacked out.

#

Guy hurried through the labyrinthine hallways, eager to put as much distance between him and Guy Prime as possible. From his theoretical work on parallel universes, he suspected that two copies of a person couldn't occupy the same universe for long. Conservation of matter and all that. He had to get rid of his doppelganger before he found out what happens if that rule is violated. Unfortunately, that involved convincing the engineers to override a key safety system.

"Hi guys," he said, projecting confidence as he entered the control room. "I need the next run to test my hypothesis on wormhole formation, so I need the Schwarzschild limiter deactivated."

"Are you serious?" the head controller said. "We can't just override that system. It needs authorization from the director at the very least."

"Look, this is an urgent request from the director herself. It's important work and we'd like to present the results at the conference next month."

"You should have thought of it a few months ago, then."

"I didn't know it was possible a month before!" Desperation rose in him … oh no, that was his lunch. He vomited on the head controller's shoes. Whatever was afflicting Guy Prime was contagious.

"What is going on? For real," the head controller said, looking down in disgust.

Guy tried the truth. "A copy of myself from another universe showed up in my office through a wormhole. We need to send him back before his presence kills me or, more likely, him."

The engineers stared in disbelief. "Okay. Have a sit down here," the head controller said gently. "We'll deal with it, don't worry." Behind him, another engineer was dialing security.

"I can prove it!" he said. "If the director says so, will you turn off the device?"

"Sure."

"Thanks," Guy said as he bolted out the door.

Luckily, the director's office wasn't far away. Guy charged straight in. "Madame Director! I need to tell you something." He poured out the whole story, including his strange repulsion and Guy Prime's illness. The director listened patiently.

"If what you say is true, then this is a remarkable opportunity to study the fundamental differences between universes. But if you're wasting my time, you're fired."

It wasn't a no. Before he could thank her, the fire alarm went off.

#

Guy Prime awoke lying in grass, the sun roasting his face. He sat up slowly, then gasped as he saw the building engulfed in flames.

“The gas leak got out of control,” Gemma said from beside him. “Glad to see you’re back.”

Guy Prime wasn’t. He leaned over and puked up what looked like blood. “Right, the nurse,” Gemma said, and disappeared.

He laid back and waited for death, but Guy found him first. Guy Prime retched again, the presence of his doppelganger causing pressure to build in his head.

High-heeled shoes entered his vision. "Remarkable, you are clearly the same person. Not a long-lost twin?"

"No, you can call my mom to check," Guy said. "Now, can we disable the Schwarzschild limiter?"

"I think we ought to conduct more tests, DNA analysis to start." The director's phone rang, cutting off Guy's objections, and she answered. Even from Guy Prime's position, he could tell it was bad news.

"Apparently there is a meteor on trajectory to hit this area," the director said slowly, as if she couldn't believe it. "We have an hour to evacuate everyone."

"Wow, the universe really does want him dead." Gemma had reappeared with the nurse, who efficiently bandaged Guy Prime's leg.

"Let me stay behind and run the accelerator without the limiter," Guy urged. "We've got to send him back."

The director nodded, distracted by issuing evacuation orders. "What's the harm now?"

Guy immediately called the control room, issuing instructions and getting the director to grunt her assent into the phone. Finally, he asked Guy Prime for the energy settings. Guy Prime dug deep into his sore brain, recalling the numbers on the dashboard back in his universe. He told Guy, who relayed them to the team.

Then, it was time. Before leaving for the buses that had gathered for the evacuation, Gemma squeezed Guy Prime's shoulder and said, "Good luck." The control room engineers waved as they boarded the buses as well. Then the Guys were alone. Below them, the accelerator started.

#

"Well," Guy said, for the first time lost for words.

"Can you get me as close to the office as possible?" Guy Prime said. Guy nodded and he winced as his double grabbed him, half dragging and half carrying him to the side of the burnt out building.

"How does the Schwarzschild limiter work?" Guy Prime asked. "No offense, but I never want to come back here."

Guy told him as much as he could remember through his worsening headache.

"Thanks, I think I get the idea. You'd better go now, don't want you coming through the wormhole as well."

All his atoms screamed to get away from Guy Prime, but Guy still hesitated.

"Go on. Worst case scenario, I'm crushed by a meteor and all your problems go away." Guy Prime tried to smile reassuringly.

Guy had to respect his courage. "Godspeed," he said and retreated over the field towards his car. The grounds were eerily silent. Though he meant to not look back, an strange instinct told him to turn around. He gave into it just in time to see Guy Prime blink out of existence. Instantly his headache eased and the universe exhaled with him.

#

After another rollicking ride through the wormhole, Guy Prime ended up in a heap outside the office building. He breathed in, gulping in the sweet air of his universe. His body had never felt better and he laughed: it had worked! A passing scientist gave him a weird look but he didn’t care. Guy Prime, now just Guy, rushed back inside to his laptop and began typing up his notes on the Schwarzschild limiter, wondering if it was too late to change his research to wormhole prevention. He’d already done the test, now to work on the theory.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





I'm taking arcanepunk

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Underground Resistance
Arcanepunk
1982 words

In the darkness, the end-of-shift bell tolled. Neve followed the bobbing headlights of the other miners back towards the surface portal, wiping sweat from her forehead. They had to wait for the mages to levitate the day’s haul into the portal with maddening ease before heading to the surface themselves. Of course, management considered mages too valuable to extract the ore in the first place, so Neve and her fellow commoners did the difficult, dangerous work manually. She stepped through the surface portal and took a welcome breath of fresh mountain air. The best part of her workday was leaving to go back home to her husband.

However, today the city portals were unlit and a nervous crowd of commoners milled about outside them. Neve worked her way through until she spotted a knot of friends.

"The foreman won't let anyone through," Eoin said.

"He better not be announcing another pay freeze, we’ll go on strike again," Liam grumbled.

“drat right,” Cara said.

Neve tried to voice her support, but no sound came out. The foreman had cast a silencing spell on the crowd, one of his favorite tricks. He brought his hands to his mouth and spoke, his voice magically amplified.

"Attention employees of Thauma Mining Company. Due to a recent mana-saving exercise, in a month we will be limiting city portal usage to three hours a week. As a result, all employees will be relocated to onsite housing and city excursions will be monitored. Note that these restrictions do not apply to the mage-surveyors, though you will need to power the portals yourselves."

The crowd soundlessly mouthed their objections, but thanks to the silence, the foreman continued detailing the relocation plan uninterrupted. Neve had heard enough, though. Her husband Aran worked in the city, in Thauma's head office in fact, and the thought of only seeing him once a week was intolerable.

Finally the foreman finished. Telling them to have a blessed evening, he lifted the silence and opened the portals. The crowd surged. Neve and her friends were carried along and through the portals, complaining all the way. They spilled out of the portal station and into the city, scattering down the narrow streets of the commoner quarter. Above them, mages flew by in sleek pods on their way out to their glass-clad mansions. Neve saw the foreman zoom off in a sporty red pod and fantasized about blasting it out of the sky. She brooded on the news during her long walk back to their small tenement apartment.

Aran gathered her into a hug the moment she walked in the door.

"Am I that easy to read?" she asked, wiping her eyes.

"Yes, but … I knew this was coming. The Directrix was quite excited to cut the portal mana usage by 27%."

Of course he'd known. Aran was an assistant to the Directrix herself. Though he was a commoner too, he had a keen mathematical ability that made him more valuable than a miner like Neve. However, the Directrix had her ways of knowing if Aran told her the news early. He still bore scars from when he’d warned Neve of impending layoffs. She and her friends had managed to save their jobs then, but this relocation was a much bigger problem.

"What will we do?" Neve sobbed. Aran just held her in response, until he suddenly disappeared. The Directrix had summoned him for some after hours task, leaving Neve holding nothing but air. She was used to such interruptions but she still cursed the Directrix, wishing that her words had magic behind them.

#

The next few weeks in the mine were grim. The relocation dominated all conversations as, like Neve, most people faced separation from their loved ones. The foreman finally called in specialists from the head office to curse the topic, making it impossible to talk about while on company property. However, discussions in the city only intensified.

"We’ve looked at it from every angle," Neve said over her beer. "I just can’t see a way to force them to change their mind. We may have to relocate, then figure out how to escape back to the city."

Liam and Eoin raised their glasses, but Cara hesitated.

"What if there's something we can do?" She leaned in. "Remember the protests at the smelting company last autumn?"

“Yeah, assassinating the Director threw the company into such disarray that the plans were halted,” Eoin said. The news of commoners outmaneuvering mages had captivated the miners for weeks.

“Don’t even think about it, Aran’s told me how powerful she is,” Neve warned.

Cara said, "So are all of the Directors. But I found out how they did it: they had a weapon." She set a long, nondescript bag on the table. "It's called a gun. A blacksmith invented it." Her eyes sparkled. “A commoner.”

Never peeked inside. "How does it work?"

"It fires a projectile that rips straight through people. And, I'm told, it’s too fast for mages to react to. The downside is that it takes a minute to reload, and that's if the mages you’re shooting leave you alone."

Still, Neve was awed. Never before had commoners had a tool that could match the power of a mage. "We do the same thing, then," she said. "We kill the Directrix. The company will stop the relocation to deal with it and it’ll force the mages to take us seriously." As a bonus, Aran might get a better boss.

#

They spent the next three days preparing. From the mountain, they smuggled equipment– pickaxes enchanted to smash rock in one hit, unbreakable drills powered by mana batteries, and good old-fashioned explosives– through the city portals. With all the new construction at the mining camp, none of the mages noticed a few tools missing. In the evenings, Neve talked endlessly with Aran about the details of the head office. The night before the relocation arrived too quickly. Neve kissed Aran goodbye before she left, loaded gun in hand.

The group rendezvoused outside the Thauma Mining offices. All wore black and determined expressions. Taking a deep breath, Neve lit the explosives next to the complex's wall. They ran behind a pod as the dynamite shattered the stone, reinforcement spells overwhelmed. Neve led the charge inside, knocking down a dazed guard who stumbled out from the wreckage. Liam finished him off with a crunch from his pickaxe. Neve paused, stunned by the fact that they’d just killed a mage, and that it was easy. Liam pulled her along. “Them or us,” he said.

Neve led them to the building that, according to Aran, housed the Directrix's office. He'd assured her that the Directrix was working late, and sure enough, the top floor glowed with magelight. Eoin brought out the drill: as was typical, the front door lock was impervious to magic but not brute force, and the diamond-tipped drill made short work of the seal.

They burst into the lobby and found themselves face-to-face with two surprised guards. The mages raised their hands and Neve threw herself to the side, narrowly avoiding a jet of fire. Cara crouched next to her, covering them both with her mining blast shield. Fire engulfed them but the shield did its job. A scream echoed and abruptly the firestorm ended. Neve and Cara rose to see one guard bleeding out on the floor, his throat slashed by Eoin, who stood behind him breathing heavily. The other guard had a pickaxe buried in his skull, but Liam was dead in front of him, body blackened from the flames. Cara clung to Neve. "Those bastards," she hissed.

Neve wanted to scream or cry, but made herself say, "We've got to move on." They had a job to do. Cara visibly pulled herself together and hefted the pickaxe. Eoin, his eyes full of tears, followed them deeper into the building. They heard more guards shouting in the building’s central shaft that mages used to levitate between floors, but with typical arrogance none thought to check the hidden commoner staircase that Neve and her friends now climbed.

In addition to the staircase, Aran had also told them about the Directrix’s specialist guards on the top level. Their welding goggles protected them from the guards’ blinding light spell and allowed them to go on the offensive. Eoin darted forward and stabbed one guard in the side before she waved a hand, throwing him down the hallway. Cara swung the pickaxe at the guards’ hands as they scrambled to cast another spell. "Go!" she yelled.

Neve would never get a better chance. She ran down the hallway, hunting for the patterned door that marked the Directrix's office. Once there, she pulled out Aran's talisman key, kissed it for luck, slapped it on the locking seal and kicked in the door. She swept the gun up to point at the Directrix, who stood in front of her desk. "Don't move your hands, or I'll kill you!" Neve said, trying to keep her voice steady. The Directrix was the most powerful mage she’d seen and her office was no less impressive. It gleamed with marble, obsidian, and mahogany, shaped into impossible designs. An ornate portal hummed in the corner.

The Directrix seemed unperturbed. "An unexpected visitor. I suppose you want something?"

Neve should fire, but a part of her hesitated to kill another human being in cold blood. "I want you to stop the relocation to High Mountain,” she said instead. “I want you to stop treating commoners like animals. But I know you won’t, so I’m going to continue what the Smelters started."

The Directrix looked at the weapon. It was the first time Neve had seen a mage look wary. "So that's the famous gun. You know they killed him and the company gave in to their demands, but do you know what happened to the commoners who shot him?" She didn't wait for a response. "They were, or should say are, being slowly vivisected. Fresh body parts are quite magically potent."

Neve shuddered involuntarily, but she didn't back down. The freedom of her fellow miners depended on her. "I'm not going to be exiled to the mountain without a fight. You mages take and take, paying us a pittance to dig stones out of the ground, breaking our backs hauling rocks a mage child could easily move." Her voice rose uncontrollably. "And for what? Marble to shape into lewd statues? Gems to amplify your already incredible power? Closing the portals will only save you 27% in mana but costs us commoners the dignity of having a life outside of servitude."

The Directrix’s eyes glinted. “Ah, you must be Aran’s wife. What clever commoners you both are.”

She’d said too much, now Aran was implicated. Her need to protect him outweighed her hesitancy to take a life. Neve braced the gun against her shoulder. In the split second before she pulled the trigger, the Directrix snapped her fingers.

It was a small mercy that Aran appeared facing the Directrix. He didn’t have to see Neve fire the shot that punched through him. Neve screamed, a wordless, primal howl of anguish, and rushed to his side. He lived long enough to see her face again and he smiled. “The bitch is dead,” he breathed. Neve hugged his lifeless body, ignoring the Directrix’s blood pooling around her feet.

Uncounted minutes passed before she heard pounding on the door. Neve shook off her numbness. As much as she wanted to join Aran in the afterlife, she couldn’t give Thauma Mining Company the satisfaction of capturing her, not after all of this. As she methodically reloaded the gun, she realized she had to live, for him. For Cara and Liam, who could still be alive. For the miners, for the commoners. There was nothing stopping her now. She faced the humming portal, then leapt through.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





In!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Positive Energy Guaranteed
1758 words

My latest target is a gleaming black metal and glass house in the hills. The wife, Monica, sees me regularly for tarot readings and when I mentioned my newest service, house cleansing, she enthusiastically signed up. Sweating in the Los Angeles summer heat, I can’t imagine why she did. The house is modern and soulless; the only energy I could imagine getting from it is a sense of superiority. Still, she insisted she’d been getting “bad vibes'' and needed a professional to improve its energy. I may not be a professional smudger but I am an expert at taking rich people’s money, so I assured her that she’d feel much better after my sage burning.

I dab my brow, adopt a serene expression, and knock on the door. Monica answers. “Hi Rowena! Welcome, come in.” Rowena is my professional name. Rachel just isn’t witchy enough.

“Thank you,” I say, stepping into the air conditioning. Everything in the house is minimalist and expensive. The obligatory swimming pool sparkles outside. Monica and her husband hover awkwardly. Maybe they’re expecting me to pull out a magic wand.

“Why don’t you sit on the deck while I perform the ritual?” I suggest. They retreat to the lounge chairs overlooking the city. Seriously, how could anyone feel bad vibes when they have that view?

Whatever. I pop open the kitchen window and light my sage bundle. I wander around the house slowly, letting the smoke settle over everything. With the couple outside, I don’t even bother mumbling the ritual phrases. I’m casually opening the dresser drawers, hoping to find some cash, when a voice behind me makes me jump.

“Could you burn your incense elsewhere? I’m haunting here!”

I whirl around, slamming the drawer closed a little too hard, and come face-to-face with a faintly glowing patch of light about the size of a basketball. I look around for mirrors that the light may be reflecting off of, then for hidden cameras that the voice may have come from. Finding nothing, I peek outside. The couple are still sitting there, flipping through magazines.

I turn back and the light ball is still there. “What the hell is this?” I mutter to myself.

“I think you mean who the hell am I. Alas, I have no answer for you. I only … appeared a few months ago, when this awful couple demolished my home to construct this monstrosity.” Its voice sounds like it’s coming through a walkie talkie with low batteries.

“So you’re a ghost,” I say slowly, hoping it will refute that statement. Instead, it moves up and down in an imitation of a nod. Well, poo poo. That makes my job a whole lot harder.

“Okay. Look, ghost, Casper, whatever your name is …”

“I don’t remember my name, but Casper is a fine substitute.”

“That was a joke, but fine. I’m burning this sage because the owners hired me to improve the energy of the house.” Now that I was paying attention, I can physically feel its energy, like heat, emanating off of it. But the energy’s not negative or evil, it’s a little angry and mostly sad. “I can see that you’re really bringing the mood down, so you’ll have to leave.”

“I know a witch when I see one, and you are no witch. You can’t make me go anywhere.”

For the first time in a while I’m unsure of myself; if I’d known smudging would bring me in contact with real-life ghosts I would’ve stuck to nice safe crystals and reiki healing. Experimentally I wave the bowl of burning sage at him. He moves away. “Stop that, the smoke is quite irritating.”

“Yeah? Well, I’ve smoked up the entire house, and I’ll keep doing so until you leave.”

Casper flashes angrily. “The only purpose I have left is to haunt these people for destroying my home, and you would take that away from me?”

“I would,” I say firmly. I can’t afford to get another Yelp review, ghost be damned.

“Everything okay in there?” Monica calls from outside.

poo poo, I should be done by now. “Just fine!” I shout back, glaring at the ghost.

He vibrates. “How many times can they hire you to solve their problem? No, I believe I can wait it out. After all, I have nothing but time.”

“How about we make a deal?” A scheme is slowly forming in my mind. “I can give you a new purpose in life, afterlife, whatever, as long as you leave this house. Meet me at the top of the driveway and I’ll tell you more.”

I sense that Casper is intrigued. He bobs, then his light fades. The sad energy goes with him, thank God. I quickly walk through the house again with the smoke just to make sure, muttering the ritual phrases this time, then go out to the couple and collect my payment.

I hike up the driveway and call an Uber. While I’m waiting, I hear his voice again. The ghost is nearly invisible in the sunlight.

“All right, I’m listening. What do you have to offer?”

“Instead of haunting this one couple, how about I give you the opportunity to haunt many people? The type of rich people who tear down old houses to make stupid modern mansions. There’s a lot of them around here.” I pause, dangling the bait.

“Go on,” Casper says. I’ve got him hooked.

“As you know, the most lucrative part of my job is clearing houses of bad energy. Not a lot of people talk about ghosts these days, but bad energy is the same thing. Business has been slow lately, so what I need you to do is go into houses and haunt them. Lurk around, make people sad, maybe slam a door if you’re feeling jazzy. I drop a leaflet in the mailbox, they hire me, I do my thing, you leave, we repeat. Sounds good?”

Casper hovers, clearly thinking it over. I know he’ll agree, so I wait patiently. “All right, I’m in. But I get to decide how I haunt them, understand?”

“That works for me.” I tell him an address and he fades away.

The scheme goes better than even I could’ve imagined. Based on a passionate testimonial from Monica, business increases. We get our breakthrough when Casper haunts the house of a semi-famous YouTuber, who makes a series of videos about his paranormal encounters before hiring me to banish the ghost in dramatic fashion. The YouTuber’s channel goes viral and it becomes fashionable to have a haunted (sorry, “bad energy”) house and to have me cleanse it. I’ve got almost more work than I can handle so Casper doesn’t even need to haunt my clients’ houses anymore. However, he continues to do so because he seems to truly enjoy it, and I'm happy to have him as my partner in crime, bolstering my reputation. He takes particular joy in haunting the extravagant mansions of celebrities (“there’s always some unused room to hide in”); his proudest achievement is ruining a pop singer’s birthday party with his depressing energy. The money from the grateful singer and her copycat friends paid my rent for months. Between podcast appearances, TV interviews, and celebrity bookings, I’m busier and richer than I’ve ever been. I even get my very own Netflix series greenlit!

It’s all worth it as I save enough money to do the impossible: put a downpayment on a house in Los Angeles. In honor of Casper, I buy a small cute Victorian house, ornate woodwork and all. The furniture from my apartment barely fills the space, but I love it. After years of scraping together rent with my roommates, having my own place is pure bliss. After Casper has a grand time haunting the Victorian house of a much richer family, I have a great idea.

“Hey Casper, where do you go when you’re not, you know, here?” I ask as we sit in a nearby park, debriefing.

“Hmm, I go to a sort of shadow world, between this world and … somewhere else. I can still see into this world, so I mostly just follow you around.”

“Creepy, but okay. Would you like to live with me in my house? There’s a little turret for you to haunt, I’ll come visit if I ever want to feel sad.”

Casper starts to glow so brightly that I’m afraid passers-by will notice. “Are you serious? Rachel, it would be an honor. I have been waiting for an invitation inside, out of respect, you see.”

“Well, respecting boundaries already makes you better than some roommates I’ve had,” I say, happy that he’s accepted.

He reappears as I walk up to the front door that evening, quivering with excitement and just as bright as before. “You’re going to have to tone that down if I’m watching TV,” I say as I open the door. He zooms around the entire house like a hyperactive puppy. For once his energy is happy instead of sad.

“Your home is just as beautiful inside as it is outside!”

“Yeah, well, it’s your home now too,” I say awkwardly, not used to this sincerity from him.

Casper stops moving in front of me. I wonder if I’ve said something wrong, then his light increases even more, to the point where I have to shield my eyes. “What’s going on?” I ask.

“I do not know … but I think that this is it. This is what I was waiting for.”

“You needed to enter this specific house?”

“No, I needed a new home. And now that I have it, I can rest.”

Oh poo poo. “Oh no you don’t, we have a smudging scheduled next week at Kylie Jenner’s house! And the TV show starts filming next month!”

“Thank you Rachel,” Casper says. His light grows to encompass the entire home, then fades slowly. He’s gone, but not completely. I can still feel his energy in the walls. Still, I’m pissed. I’m glad he got everything he wanted, but what about me? With the transient nature of LA trends and without a real ghost to bust, business is going to eventually dry up. Then it’ll be back to tarot cards and crystals, and now I’ve got a mortgage to worry about.

“gently caress you,” I say to the house. I get a wave of positive energy in return. In spite of myself, I smile. Really, the scam hasn’t changed much, I tell myself. Who needs real ghosts when you have people who believe in ghosts?

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





In

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Apogee
898 words

I woke up to the sound of a spaceship landing on our front lawn. I got up excitedly: it was our moving ship, slated to take the household to our summer home on Venusia. Most people on Gaia had already left to escape the long, cold winter here, when the planet’s orbit swung far from the sun, but we liked to stay late to avoid the interplanetary rush. But now the house filled with activity as my parents directed the movers in an endless parade of boxes. I’d already packed so I pinged Max on my smart brace. He responded unusually quickly; I grinned. We’d spent the whole Gaian summer together and I couldn’t wait to continue the fun on Venusia; my daydreams often involved us skinny-dipping in the planet’s warm lakes. With a shout to my parents, I zipped off in my hovercar. Max's family lived in one of the huge, interconnected skyscrapers that formed the heart of the city. I parked on their dock, eighty stories up, and beeped the horn. Max clambered into the passenger seat.

For my last day on the planet, I took us to our favorite spot: a secluded overlook in the mountains. Once there, I popped the dome, exposing us to the cold fresh air. Winter was on the horizon.

Max was quiet, even for him. “I forget, when did you say your family’s leaving?” I said to fill the silence.

“I didn’t say.” Max stared at the distant mountains. “Ted, I’m not leaving.”

My heart felt like it was plunged into ice water. “What do you mean?” I said, hoping I’d misheard. As I understood it, the whole planet froze solid during the Gaian winter and living here became a struggle for survival.

“My family overwinters on Gaia. It started because we were too poor to afford the move, but now it’s a tradition.” I couldn't get my thoughts to coalesce into questions, but he anticipated some of them anyway. “Don’t worry, we’re all set up for it. The snow is beautiful and the streets are quiet. We’ve got the whole planet to ourselves. It’s nice, I promise,” he said defensively.

“But,” I said. He sounded so drat reasonable, like he hadn’t just destroyed my dreams like crushing a fistful of snow. “But isn’t it cold? Wouldn’t you rather come hang out in the sun?”

“I’m sort of looking forward to the change of pace.” He looked at me, pleading. “As I said, it’s fine. Don’t worry about me.”

“I’m worried about us!” My fears crystallized into words. “What about us? It’s our first Venusian summer together, I’ve got so many places to show you. The rivers and waterfalls are stunning, and there’s a perfect spot for swimming. And you’d give all that up to freeze your rear end off here?”

“Please don’t make this harder …”

“If it’s a money thing, that’s okay, it really is.” I grasped at this idea like a drowning man at a lifeboat. “We’ve got plenty of room, my parents love you. You can stay with us all summer, it’ll be no problem.”

“Can you take my parents too? How about my aunts? My cousins?”

I glared at him.

He sighed. “It’s a time for our family to be together, I can’t just leave them.”

“You could, though,” I said bitterly.

“And you could stay here with me, you think of that? We don’t have a fancy house in the exurbs but there’d be enough room for you. But you don’t want that, do you?”

Looking at his anguished face, my anger melted. “No,” I said. “But all my dreams for Venusia involve you.”

“I know.” A fleeting smile. “You wouldn’t shut up about it.”

I smiled too, maybe we’d survive this. “You’ll just have to hear about it second-hand, then. We’ll video call every evening and I’ll tell you all--”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said, shaking his head. “We’ll be apart for so long, it’ll be easier if we just--”

“If we just what? Don’t talk for months? Wait until I get back?” I wasn’t smiling anymore. Panic was setting in, like water closing over my head.

“Break up,” he said.

There it was. Tears threatened, but I held them back. “Is that what you want?” I asked. “We could make it work, you know.”

“I know, but … This was just a summer thing. And now the summer’s over.”

A few tears escaped. “The summer doesn’t have to end. Just come with me.”

I knew he wouldn’t, and he knew I knew. He didn’t say anything, just looked out at the mountains. The silence between us settled and frosted over. The cold setting sun forced me to fly back to the city, wishing every second would linger for a season.

Muscle memory brought me to his dock. He opened the door, then hesitated. I couldn’t find anything to say, so I leaned towards him. He did the same and we kissed without heat, a long, bitter farewell. He was the one who broke it off.

“Goodbye,” I said. He tried to smile and waved. I flew off quickly, not daring to look behind. Alone, the tears flowed freely.

#

The next day my family and I left for Venusia. While everyone else chattered happily about their plans, I just stared out the window at my heart, left behind on Gaia.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





In with Astronaut in the Ocean, a meh song with a cool title

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Astronaut in the Ocean
Masked Wolf

Rollin' Down in the Deep
997 words

John’s two young crewmates looked awed as he entered the submarine. As well they should: he’d been mapping the ocean floor in the world’s first atmospheric dive suit, revolutionizing deep-sea exploration, when these two were still in diapers. Or before. The only reason he’d come out of his quiet retirement was as a favor to the colonel, who requested his help on this important salvage operation. The colonel had assured him his crewmates were top-notch, but all he saw were two slack-jawed boys at the controls.

“John Lethbridge, at your service. And you are …?” he asked. Young people had no manners these days.

“Oh, hey man, I’m Ross,” said the man at the sensors. “He’s James.” The man at the helm squeaked.

“A pleasure to meet you, gentlemen. Take us down, please.” James gratefully turned his focus to the controls and they began sinking into the sea. The boys still seemed cowed by his presence so John gazed out the porthole at the darkening water. He felt a long-forgotten peace settle over him.

At least until the thumping rap music started. He glared at James, who looked guilty. “I, uh, like to listen to music when I drive. But I can stop it.” He turned it off but John’s mood had already been ruined. They continued descending in tense silence.

As they passed 300 meters, John recalled the topography from his long-ago expeditions. Time to live up to his reputation. “Careful, the Antilles Ridge is coming up. Navigating through it can be challenging.”

Ross tapped the screen. “Got it here. Sonar technology is amazing these days.” Sonar based on maps created by him, thought John; they have it so easy nowadays.

A light on the dashboard started flashing. Ah, oxygen levels low. By instinct, John reached for the switch to increase the levels. Ross batted his hand away, then looked chagrined. “Sorry, just, leave the controls to me. That switch would’ve activated the fire protocols.”

Nothing was how he remembered it. John sat back. Submarines used to be his home, his happy place as his grandkids said, but now he felt disoriented, like he no longer belonged. Maybe revisiting the past wasn’t such a good idea after all. He watched the increasingly infrequent fish swim past.

The submarine passed the 600 meter mark. It creaked as the entire weight of the ocean pressed down on it. Outside, it was a wasteland: the headlights only illuminated the soft snowfall of detritus drifting into the abyss. Suddenly, the submarine shuddered violently. The creaking intensified. Rob scrabbled at the controls, trying to determine what was wrong, until a giant tentacle slapped across the front window.

"A colossal squid," John said. He was gratified to see that his training to remain calm under pressure still held. "How do you boys deal with them these days?"

Rob hammered buttons and switches wildly. "Usually we give 'em a zap with the arm, but I think it's trapped." Something on the submarine popped.

"We've lost control of the steering too," James cried, twisting the yoke ineffectually.

"We don't need steering, we need to get it off us before the sub is compromised," John said. His old instincts resurged when faced with a crisis. Finally, he knew what to do. "Get me outside," he ordered.

Without waiting for a response he strode to the airlock containing the atmospheric dive suit. Rob and James fussed, trying to talk him out of it, but helped seal him in. John saw their small frightened faces in the lock window before he punched the release, dropping into the depths.

The colossal squid was busy ripping the arm off the submarine. With a twitch of the familiar controls, John jetted towards it. The squid shot out a spare tentacle impossibly fast, wrapping it around his dive suit. John grinned fiercely; he had counted on this. The squid brought him in close, inspecting him, and he threw himself forward with a roar. He punched the squid straight in its dinner plate sized eye. The water churned as the squid detached from the submarine and John spun into the darkness. To his horror, the squid was dragging him down, hellbent on revenge. The suit's alarms blared as they sped towards its maximum depth. At least the boys will escape, thought John.

Suddenly, light filled his vision. For a wild moment, John thought he had died, but it was the submarine, ramming into the squid … backwards? The squid recoiled from the propellers and John felt the solid thunk of metal on metal. They'd got him with the salvage magnet, clever lads. Faced with competition, the squid finally gave up and retreated into the deep.

John carefully navigated back into the submarine and stepped out of the suit. To his disgust he found he was shaking. Maybe he was too old for heroics. Rob and James didn't think so: they abandoned all decorum by pulling him into a hug as soon as the airlock closed.

"That was the craziest thing I've ever seen, man!" said Rob.

"You saved us!" said James.

John patted them awkwardly on their backs. "You boys did well too, nice rescue. I'd be squid food if not for you."

They beamed and fist-bumped. John rolled his eyes. "Now, get us out of here. Mission aborted, got to inspect the sub for damage."

"Aye aye, captain," James said as he took the yoke.

They surfaced without further incident. John's muscles were sore after operating the dive suit for the first time in twenty years so he tried to go to bed early. However, Rob and James dragged him to the ship's bar ("one drink only"), where they regaled the rest of the team with the story of the legendary John Lethbridge wrestling a kraken. Naturally John shared the credit, praising their quick thinking. After a few rounds, John had forgotten all about his soreness. Arm in arm with his crewmates, drinking and singing karaoke, he felt at home again.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





In, flash please!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





The Return of the Thunder Lizard

Dragonknight
994 words

The dragons were halfway over the field before Nari caught up to them. Her warhorse snorted but galloped gamely into the dragons’ shadows. There were three of them: two carrying a cow between them, flapping laboriously, and one covering their escape. The one behind wheeled around and spat a fireball, which she avoided easily. Before it could breathe again, Nari aimed her crossbow and shot. The bolt missed its heart, instead punching a hole in its wing. It cried out and flew away over the forest. The other two dragons had already gotten away. drat.

Some townspeople had gathered in the field. As a Dragonslayer, she’d been assigned to this town, whose cattle kept being stolen by dragons from the nearby Thunder Mountains, which meant tracking down the injured dragon and finishing it off. She sighed; she was getting too old to be chasing dragons all over the countryside. It was so much easier when they stood and fought. Waving reassuringly at the townspeople, she rode into the dark forest.

Before long, she heard the telltale crunching of a large creature moving through the undergrowth. She approached cautiously, leaving her horse to graze on some clover. The tear in its wing had widened and it had broken its left front leg when it crashed. Still, it could roast her in a second. She stepped out from behind a tree to get an angle on the back of its skull.

A twig snapped her foot and she froze. The dragon whipped its head around and stared at her, fire building in its nostrils. Nari pointed the crossbow between its eyes. “If you kill me, I’m taking you with me,” she growled at it to bolster her courage.

“Then I suggest we find another method of resolving our differences,” the dragon said.

Nari blinked in shock, nearly dropping the crossbow. In her adventures, she’d come across massive dragons, sea dragons, dragons that breathed ice, but none that had talked. Even the ones she’d duelled just roared and breathed fire.

“Excuse me?” she said.

“Instead of mutually assured destruction, perhaps we can negotiate,” the dragon said. “My name is Rimvadys.”

“Sir Nari of the Dragonslayers, at your service,” she said automatically; how ridiculous to be chivalrous to a dragon. However, she was intrigued enough to lower her crossbow slightly.

“Thank you. Now, Sir Nari, my clanmates will return to rescue me and I’d like to avoid any more bloodshed. How about you leave me here and all of us can walk away from this encounter unscathed.” He waved his wing. “Mostly.”

Nari shook her head. She had a job to do, but it seemed dishonorable to shoot Rimvadys when he didn’t pose an active threat. “What about the cow you stole? This is a poor town that can’t afford to keep losing cattle. I’m afraid I can’t just let you go to continue your thievery.”

She managed to dodge his fireball, but it ignited her crossbow. She threw it away and took cover behind the tree, swearing. “Thievery?” he bellowed. “For dragons there is no such thing. If you are strong enough to take it, then it is yours.”

“But you’re not strong enough.” Nari said. “My fellow knights and I have killed hundreds of dragons, and we’ll keep doing so as long as dragons threaten humankind.” She awkwardly drew her sword. It had been ages since she had to use it, lucky he was injured.

He lunged awkwardly on his broken leg and she danced away, looking for an opening. “We will not starve to death for your convenience, human,” Rimvadys said. “We will keep taking what we want to feed our dragonlings and add to our hoards. It is a disgrace that I am even speaking to you now.”

She dodged his next attack and winced; she wasn’t as spry as she used to be. She knew she had to end this quickly, but an idea was tickling in the back of her mind.

Another fireball missed her entirely. She got the impression that Rimvadys wasn’t good at combat. “You’re not going to win this fight,” she said. “Dragonkind will not win against humans, we’ve already pushed you into the mountains and we’ll keep killing you, whether by combat or starvation. But it doesn’t have to be this way.”

He stopped his hobbling advance. “What is your proposal?”

“How large is your clan’s hoard?”

He puffed out his chest. “It is the largest in the Thunder Mountains, made of treasures from kingdoms unremembered by humans.”

“Great. Would you consider parting with some of it?” He bristled. “Not much, just a few golden trinkets. In return, the town will set aside a herd of cows for your specific use.” She added, “For another trinket, some humans will tend the cows for you, increasing their number so your dragonlings never go hungry again.”

“Give our treasure back to humans? That is unthinkable.”

“Would you rather have treasure or food?” she retorted.

“Would I rather have my pride or my life? Many dragons would choose pride, but I see your point.” He looked at her sword. “Quite literally, in fact.”

“Then you agree?”

“Trade is a dirty human thing,” Rimvadys said, “but our clan has lost many dragons. I will take your proposal to my queen and attempt to convince her to accept it.”

Good enough. Nari lowered her sword. “The mayor of the town will need to agree as well, but convincing him will be no problem, I am a knight after all.”

Naturally, the mayor eagerly agreed to treasure and the cessation of dragon attacks in exchange for a few cows. Nari lingered for weeks until Rimvadys reappeared over the field: the dragon queen had accepted as well. Nari gave Rimvadys a celebratory slap on the shoulder and he gave her a new proposal. She agreed. After penning her resignation to the Dragonslayers, Nari mounted Rimvadys and they flew off to spread interspecies peace through commerce.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





In!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012







A Gift for Grandpa
1191 words

Zipping through cyberspace on my hoverboard, I finally find the right door. It leads to the ancient site my grandpa always talks about, and looks like it hadn’t been accessed in ages. I shiver in my haptic suit, which translates to a cold-face emoji appearing above my head. I’m more used to the modern Web, with its neon storefronts and chatrooms and people buzzing around in silly avatars. Here, in the Web’s Archives, there’s just an empty maze of doors leading to ancient websites. It’s dark and creepy, but I’m here for the memes. It’s Gramps’ birthday soon and I want to get him something special.

Hesitently, I try the handle. It’s locked. I knock on the door, wait a few seconds, then give up. Hey, I tried. I turn to leave and come face-to-face with a program. I jump back, activating my anti-virus shield. Someone has coded it to look like a 21st century anime man. “Ooh, a visitor!” he says. “Do you have your username and password?”

I vaguely remember learning about such ancient security measures in e-school. “Uh, no,” I say. “I’ve got my digital fingerprint, that’s what we use these days.”

The program shakes his head but doesn’t seem hostile, so I lower my shield. “I only do username and password, dude.”

I wrack my brains, trying to recall what the teacher had said. “Oh, right! Can I sign up for an account?” I say the magic words. I can’t believe that boring history class actually came in handy.

“Sure thing,” the man says. “That will be ten US dollars, please.”

What. The class didn’t cover this. “I need to pay you to enter? Who are you?”

“I am the paywall.”

“Well, paywall, the US merged into MegaAmerica like a hundred years ago. I can give you some cryptocoins or Webbucks instead?” A crossed-fingers emoji rises above my head.

“Tough poo poo, I’m only programmed to accept USD.” The paywall smirks. “I guess you better go out and find some.”

Ugh, annoying. I set a bookmark at the door, warn the paywall I’ll be back, then hoverboard out of the alley. Why did I think meme archaeology would be easy?

My first stop is the Finance District, where people with very serious avatars trade all types of money. The banks there don’t have USD but do sell other physical currency. I buy as many currencies as I can find-- MegaAmerica Bucks, Pan-Asian yuan, Euros, etc.-- then present them to the paywall. He rejects them all, making rude fart noises as he does. I leave, angry-face emoji above my head. Next, I venture to the Marketplace. It’s as labyrinthine as the archives and as busy as the Finance District. I’m instantly lost and overwhelmed, so I fly around randomly, getting anything that looks like old currency. I end up with an assortment of board game money, bills with Saint Elon’s face on them, and something called Vbucks. The paywall just laughs at this collection and I flee again, an embarrassed emoji trailing behind me.

I admit defeat. “Grandpa, how would you get ten US dollars?” I ask over dinner. Mom insists on feeding us in the real world a few times a week.

“What do ya need with that?” I shrug nonchalantly. Mom looks a little suspicious. “Well, I’d try the pawn shops down the road, they got all kinds of old stuff there.”

Ugh, that means going outside. I thank Gramps and, the next morning, brave the sunlight to walk to the dingy pawn shops outside our apartment building. I enter the first one I come across and a toothless old woman greets me. “Do you have any USD?” I ask, eyeing the cluttered store doubtfully. I feel naked here in meatspace.

“Ooh, I’m sure we have something, dearie.” She begins digging through piles of crap. I’m about to leave when she cackles. “Here it is!” She shoves a plastic card, embossed with numbers, into my hand. “Last time I checked, it still had a balance,” she says triumphantly.

The USD doesn’t look like much, but it’ll work. I pay for it in cryptocoins; it’s annoyingly cheap. Still, I did it. Tada emoji, I think to myself.

I return home, load the card into my computer, and plug back into the Web, wincing as the tubes of my haptic suit insert themselves into my orifices. Zooming straight to the paywall, I throw the digital card in his face. “There’s your ten USD, you bastard.”

The paywall examines the card. “My dude, this expired in 2056. Still no good,” he says with a poo poo-eating grin.

Argh! My fists clench and, embarrassingly, my eyes start to well up with tears. Big crying-face emojis bubble over my head before I slam the emotion suppressor on my haptic suit. “gently caress you, man,” I say, trying to sound dismissive rather than upset.

Too late. The paywall looks stricken. “drat, dude, I thought we were having fun! You know, like a treasure hunt. It’s been so long since I had a visitor, let alone a new sign-up, so I wanted to keep you coming back, you know?”

Despite myself, I feel a little sorry for the old program. "S'okay," I mutter.

“But I still can’t accept this card.”

Head-exploding emoji. “It’s a dead card for a dead currency for a dead site! If that’s not good enough, I’ll just have to get Gramps some candy or something for his birthday.”

The paywall thinks this over. “I’m not supposed to do this … but what’s your grandpa’s name? Or online handle?” I tell him and he stares into the distance, accessing his memory. “Got him!” he says suddenly. “And his password was just ‘password,’ so here you go.” He hands me a key.

“Woah, old-school hacking! Thanks.” Cybersecurity really was terrible back then. I unlock the door and stare, gobsmacked, at the site. Of course, the old forum was text-based. Each of the millions of threads is stored in a book, and the books are stored in towering bookshelves that seem to stretch to infinity. It would take a lifetime to read it all.

“Yeah, it’s a lot,” the paywall says smugly. "What're you looking for, anyway?"

"Just something funny from the old days," I say.

He breaks out in a slow grin, rummages in his pocket, and takes out a picture. He puts it in an envelope.

"Give your grandpa this, it’s guaranteed to put a smile on any old goon's face."

Beats trawling through zillions of threads to find the good stuff. "Thanks, bud. I’ll come visit you again," I promise, then log out for Grandpa’s birthday dinner.

Afterwards, back in cyberspace, I give Gramps his gift. He laughs so long and hard that I’m afraid he might have a stroke or something. Mom looks at it over his shoulder and gives me a dirty look. I ask if I can see it. “Go ahead, Jax,” he says with a grin, reminding me of the paywall.

I look at the picture, expecting to see something stupid like a puppy falling over. I was not prepared.

"What is that man doing to his anus?!"

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





I can't decide, so let's go spy :toxx:

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





https://cfa.org/turkish-van/
https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/spinone-italiano/

The Tale of the Ship's Cat
1487 words

Van watched with disdain from her perch on the bowsprit as the dog bounded up the gangplank ahead of the captain. She had met dogs before, on land, and none had impressed her. This one, with its silly droopy ears and mustache, didn’t look like it would change her opinion. It rushed up to each of the crew members, shoving its face in their hands, but it was rewarded with scratches behind the ears for this interruption. Lastly, it came up to Van. “Hello! My name is Rusty! What’s your name!” He gave Van a big sniff.

Van swatted Rusty on the nose to reestablish her personal space. “I’m Able Seacat Van, the chief mouser.”

Rusty did not seem bothered by her swipe. “Nice to meet you, Able Seacat Van! What a wonderful ship! So many smells!” His tail wagged and he looked around excitedly.

“Calm down. This is a serious research vessel, and it would not do to knock over the sensitive equipment or samples in your excitement.” She puffed up importantly. “We all have jobs aboard the ship, what is yours?”

Rusty looked uncertain. “I don’t know. I only met the captain a few days ago. He’s so nice, he gave me treats! He’s my favorite person!”

The captain called Rusty and he leaped away, tail wagging. So undignified, Van thought as she washed dog slobber off her white paws. What was the captain thinking, bringing him on board?

The mystery only deepened as they sailed away from the port. Rusty seemed to do nothing but distract the crew from their tasks and gobble up scraps from the galley. He took her spot on the captain’s bed, leaving her to spend the nights in the hold, sulking next to the cargo. Worse, he soaked up all the crew’s affection that had previously gone to Van. Rusty got ear scratches and belly rubs, and for what? For just being a big dumb dog. She tried leaving dead rats for the men, but not even those offerings seemed to help. Angry and envious, she punished the crew by clawing them whenever they reached down to pet her. Eventually, they stopped trying, leaving her to stalk the ship alone.

Things finally came to a head when Rusty snatched a piece of fish from Van’s bowl in the dining room. She jumped on him with a yowl, claws extended. The dog was not prepared for an attack and tried to wriggle away, whining. Van chased him under the table and through the mens’ legs, heedless of their shouting, until both her and Rusty were picked up by their scruffs and thrown out of the room. Van leaped on top of a crate and began grooming herself as if nothing had happened. Rusty just looked confused.

“Why did they put us outside? I wasn’t done with my dinner!” he whined.

“It’s because you took my fish,” Van said, oversimplifying the situation.

“Oh! I’m sorry, I just got excited,” Rusty said. “I get the feeling you don’t like me that much. But I like you! I like everyone on the ship!”

Van stopped licking her paws. “It’s because you are not contributing. Do you notice that everyone is working? I catch rats. The cook cooks, the helmsman steers, and the captain makes sure everyone does their jobs properly. As far as I can tell, you just get in the way.”

“Oh,” Rusty said sadly. “I do want to be helpful, but the captain hasn’t given me a job yet. So I guess I have to find a job!” His tail wagged again. “You know the ship well, can you help me?”

Van considered it. “Hmm. You’ve got a good nose. Perhaps you could be my apprentice.”

Rusty agreed eagerly and so, the next morning, he accompanied Van down into the hold. Under Van’s supervision, he quickly sniffed out a rat’s nest. However, before Van could flush them out, he pushed his head in between the crates, barking excitedly. The rats scattered and Rusty chased them around the hold, knocking over boxes pell-mell. The quartermaster came down, yelled at Rusty, then dragged him to the upper decks. Van could hear him whining. She felt bad for him momentarily, but at least he wouldn’t be taking her job anytime soon.

She found him lying sadly under the stairs. “I don’t think I did a good job,” he said.

“You didn’t,” Van said. “Your talents must lie elsewhere.”

“Oh! My mother was a guard dog for the house! I could be a guard dog!”

“Against what?” Van asked, but Rusty had already rushed off to the bow to stand watch.

Over the next day, Rusty patrolled up and down the deck. He warned the crew of an albatross flying overhead and he barked at the pod of dolphins surfing alongside the ship. This activity kept him out of Van’s way as she hunted below decks, but seemed to annoy the rest of the crew. Finally, the first mate shut Rusty down in the hold, making him Van’s problem again.

“I don’t know what to do. I just want to help, like you said.” Rusty looked at Van with mournful eyes. “But helping made the crew mad at me.”

“At least they still pet you,” Van said peevishly, twitching her orange ears.

“Maybe I’ll try helping the cook after the storm,” he said hopefully.

“What storm?”

“Oh, the storm that’s coming. I can feel it, can’t you?”

She concentrated. Now that he mentioned it, she could sense the dropping air pressure in her fluffy ginger tail. “We have to warn the captain,” she said.

Rusty flopped over, sighing deeply. “I don’t want to get yelled at again.”

Van had no patience for self-pity that wasn’t her own. She batted him on the nose. “Get up. This is important, and you’re good at getting attention.” Obediently, he followed her as she located the captain. Van wound around his legs while Rusty bobbed in front of him. “What is going on with these animals?” the captain said, but he allowed himself to be led up onto the deck, where he quickly spotted dark clouds building on the horizon. “Batten down the hatches,” he called. “Storm’s coming!”

The storm hit several hours later. Van and Rusty were shut in the cabin to keep them out of the way. Rusty covered his nose and whimpered at every clap of thunder. Van retreated under the bed, claws dug into the floor to keep herself in place as the ship bucked and heaved. They could hear the shouts and heavy footfalls of the crew as they toiled. “We’re going to die!” Rusty cried.

“No, we’re not,” Van hissed. “The captain is good, he’s led us through worse weather.” Her point was undermined by a tremendous crash. Rusty howled and the crew’s voices turned panicked. Van just dug her claws deeper. It wouldn’t do for the dog to see that she was scared too.

Eventually, the storm abated and the ship returned to its normal rocking, albeit listing to one side. The captain finally opened the cabin door and they ran out onto the deck. The mizzenmast had fallen, smashing through half the ship to rest halfway in the sea. Van jumped on top of it to supervise as the crew scurried around with planks and saws, desperately trying to patch up the ship, which was taking on water. Rusty, for once, recognized that his help was not needed and sat under the main mast, staying out of everyone’s way.

As the sun set, the crew finished their emergency repairs. The men slumped on the deck, silent and exhausted. Noting the mood, the captain ordered the cook to bring out the rum. As the crew started drinking and relaxing, Rusty left his spot, tail wagging tentatively. He went up to each man, licking their tired faces and getting scratches in return. Van was about to tell him off when she noticed that the men petting Rusty were notably happier. Hmm. She jumped down and approached the carpenter, rubbing her head on his legs. His rough hands petted her head and she began purring. The man relaxed as well. Making their way around, Rusty and Van cheered up the crew. The bosun brought out a harmonica and the other men started singing. Both animals ended up with the captain, Rusty lying at his feet and Van on his lap. He told them what good girls and boys they were: the ultimate compliment.

“We did good, didn’t we?” Rusty asked later that night in the captain’s quarters. Van had decided to sleep there again.

“We did,” Van said. “That must be your job, then, keeping up morale. You’re quite good at it, too,” she said with grudging respect.

“It can be your job too, Van!” Rusty said happily. “The crew love you, you know.”

“I know,” she said. Despite herself, she started purring again.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





I like birbs and feel-good stories so I'll judge :stoked:

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





Week 466 - Threatening Bird Crits

I enjoyed all of the stories, thanks for making my first week as a judge easy and fun!

Uranium Phoenix - Lawyers in Space

I was into the premise as presented in the title and the first paragraph, but then you spend the first half of the story on ship communication and missiles. The sparrow AI is fun, but where’s the fun space lawyer stuff? I’d cut all of that out and jumped straight to the negotiations with the metasapience. I think the idea of him owing 30 years of child support for a 2-year-old kid is clever and would justify having the lawyer along to make the case, but as it is, the discussion is rushed and the lawyer doesn’t get much to do. Still, the tone is fun and there was a bird, so I enjoyed reading it.


ZearothK - Ops, I did it Again

As the other judges pointed out, the issue with starting with a character who is bored is that something has to happen to them, or they have to do something, in order for the story to actually get going. That said, I was following along, wondering what sort of mischief he and the AI would get up to, when I ran into the huge paragraph of exposition. It ground the story to a halt and I lost my investment in it. The amount of unnecessary details in both this paragraph and the set-up means that I glossed over the one that actually mattered-- that the mountain looks like a frowning face-- which meant that the ending didn’t land for me. Also, your MC just passes out when the crisis happens and everything is resolved without him, which is not very satisfying, but I did like the chaotic energy of your bird AI.


Barnaby Profane - Cassie’s Not A Pet

Overall I like this story, and Cassie wins Goodest Birb of the Week, but there’s a few character issues that nagged me. First, the text says the mom feels “murderous rage” at her ex getting the cassowary, but that doesn’t come through at all; she just seems mildly annoyed. This lack of a strong initial reaction weakens her arc of accepting Cassie. Second, I wasn’t sure how old Elizabeth was supposed to be. Her adult-style dialogue was jarring since it was inconsistent throughout the story. I think you didn’t need it, I know as an eight-year-old I could’ve expressed a desire for a pet Deinonychus (and probably did).


Zurtilik - Rebecks’ Gift

You get points for your characters being actual birds! However, the tone is all over the place: you’ve got poetic phrases like “sheen with a soft, silver glow in the light of the sun” but also bold phrases like “My right to exist!” That, combined with Rebecks’ hopeless romanticism, makes them both read like one-dimensional anime characters. In fact, the whole story is like an anime, where they eventually prevail due to their Friendship Power Combined. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, you’d just need to push that tone more deliberately to pull it off. Also, I kept getting pulled out of the story with the backstory paragraphs; that information could have gone at the start when you introduce the characters (and it would have made it more clear that they are birds).


Sparksbloom - BIRD WITH A GUN

Short and sweet! I tend to like TD stories that establish a silly premise with no explanation and have characters that react to it in unexpected, but realistic, ways. However, I got a bit caught up in trying to imagine what the BIRD WITH A GUN looked like: the text says it’s a wren with an AR-15, but then it says the bird is black, so is it a blackbird? A crow? Is the bird hopping around on top of the gun or sitting behind it like in the prompt picture? If so, how can they see it on the roof? The public demands answers!


T a s t e - Honeymoon

Confession: I didn’t like this story as much as the other judges initially, but that’s because I’m bad at reading and thought the first section was from Ike’s perspective. I think the lack of speaker identification in the second-to-last paragraph threw me off. Anyway, after rereading it I like it much better. The tension between the characters is well done and they all act in sympathetic ways, which is not terribly dramatic but definitely realistic. The only complaint is lack of birb.


Idle Amalgam - Deus ex Beakina

This one had too much sci-fi for my taste. That would have been OK, but we also switch perspectives too much from Ripley, to Commander Lu, to a general narration of what is happening. Because there wasn’t a single character that carried me through the story, it was hard to get invested in the action. How did Ripley or Lu react to seeing an awesome cosmic bird? What did it mean to them? The story was like a Star Trek episode, only without Spock or Picard to ground the action.


Rohan - Master of Assassination (Majoring in Daggers)

Hooray, a fantasy story, and a good one too! The characters are well-defined, there’s high stakes and a fun twist, and the tone is light-hearted. I’d happily read a book about Assassin University and their cross-town rivals at the University of Necromancy. My questions are: does this class run every semester? Because if so, the kingdom’s going to run out of nobles real fast. Also, it seems a little far-fetched that a professor of assassination could be poisoned in such a straightforward way, but I get that you were out of words at that point. I like the naming scheme nod to the bird theme.


Thranguy - How To Make a New Friend

Another story with no birds, sad. That’s not my real problem, though: up front, you introduce a bunch of characters but there’s not much to distinguish them, either as individuals or from each other. Even leaning on heist cliches (Mary’s the muscle, Sharon's the hacker, etc.) would have helped me get a sense of who these people are. Also, Lise says the heist “wasn’t easy” but it seems to go great: distracting the cop worked well and the guy didn’t put up a fight or even call the cops. A few more things going wrong, or establishing what the personal stakes are (why is Lise so desperate to get paid? Why is this heist important?) would create the conflict this story needs.


Chairchucker - No Escape

This story has a fun energy to it, though I agree with MockingQuantum that it’s the skeleton of a more complete story. I like the idea of bored gods watching humanity and messing with people, just because they can, and I like your bird character, especially the birdy mannerisms. I was a little confused when it turned out the bird could actually control fire, but that’s because I didn’t get that Metatron = angel. Making it more explicit in the text that Metatron is also a supernatural being would help things make more sense for dummies like me. I do like Moira’s complete indifference to the shenanigans but it does mean that most of the action happens off-screen, which is unsatisfying. I want to see the eagle and parrot fight!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





In!

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My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012





The Pirate Queen
2499 words

Once upon a time, Shi Yang, a Boat Dweller girl, worked as a tavern maid in the port city of Guangzhou. Out of all the customers, including Chinese merchants, Vietnamese traders, and Portuguese sailors, her favorites were the pirate crew led by the Pirate King Zheng Yi. They had the most entertaining stories, some of which were even true, and tipped well. She dreamed of joining them on the high seas, but everyone knew women were bad luck to have on board.

The pirates were carousing in the tavern one evening, singing sea shanties as she delivered rounds of rice wine. Suddenly, she heard her black cockatoo, Ned, screech from outside the tavern. She ducked outside to shush him.

“Ned, quiet down! That animal trader was right, you are too loud.”

“It’s the Portuguese!” he squawked. “They’re armed and coming this way!”

“That’s nothing to yell about, they’re always marching,” Yang said and went back inside.

Soon a Portuguese admiral, huge blue feather in his hat, barged through the door, flanked by stiff navy sailors. The tavern fell quiet and Yang retreated behind the bar.

“You are Zheng Yi, yes?” the Portuguese admiral said to the Pirate King. “My name is Admiral José Pinto Alcoforado e Sousa, captain of the Inconquistável, and in the name of Her Majesty Queen Maria the First, long may she reign, you are hereby arrested for the crime of piracy.”

“You’re out of your jurisdiction, you rooster,” Zheng Yi said mockingly. “The boys and I aren’t going anywhere.” The pirates cheered while Admiral Alcoforado turned redder than a chili.

“I have been honorifically deputized by the local authorities,” he blustered. “You must submit to my authority.”

“I don’t think so,” said the Pirate King. The Portuguese sailors and pirates drew their swords. Shi Yang ducked behind the bar as the fight began and the other tavern patrons rushed for the door. Despite the pirates’ superior numbers, the better-armed Portuguese had the upper hand. Zheng Yi held the Portuguese off as the pirates escaped into the night, sailors in hot pursuit. He was about to follow them when Admiral Alcoforado seized him. “Now who is the rooster?” he cried.

All the other pirates had left. Taking a deep breath for courage, Shi Yang stood up, grabbed a stool, and swung it as hard as she could at Admiral Alcoforado’s head. It connected with a solid twack and he collapsed to the floor. Ned flew to inspect the feather in his hat. The Pirate King looked at Shi Yang.

“Thank you, miss. You, of all of these people,” he waved his hand around the empty tavern, “had the courage to fight back. I could use that spirit on my ship.”

Yang couldn’t believe it. “Aren’t women bad luck?” she squeaked.

“You and I, we make our own luck.” The Pirate King winked at her. Without any more hesitation, she grabbed her few possessions and Ned, then followed Zheng Yi back to his junk.

“Welcome to the Eighth Wind,” he said. “If you don’t like working on board, we can drop you off--”

“No need, you can count on me!” Yang said confidently.

The Pirate King laughed. “I believe you.”

***

The Pirate King was too busy to train her himself, so her induction to ship life fell to the taciturn first mate, Cai Qian. On her first morning, she met him and his other trainee, Zheng Yi’s son, Zheng Bao, the Pirate Prince. Cai Qian told them to coil the ropes, then left them to it. Zheng Bao got to work immediately and Shi Yang tried to copy him. The river boats of her youth had much smaller ropes.

“Hey new girl, hurry up!” he said. “Cian Qian is expecting things to get done twice as fast now.”

“If you show me how to do it properly, I will,” she panted.

“Fine.” He demonstrated his technique. “You’ve got a long way to go to catch up to me.”

He was right. After coiling the ropes, Cai Qian instructed them in swordfighting, which left bruises all over her arms. After lunch, he taught them navigation, which left her with a headache. Worst of all was training on the cannons, where she dropped a cannonball on her toe.

“Maybe you should stick to fresh water, river girl,” Bao teased.

She blushed. “You better watch out, sea boy, I don’t give up that easily.” She couldn’t let him get to her.

“Quiet and give me twenty pushups,” Cai Qian barked at them.

The days slowly got better. Shi Yang picked up the mental tasks like navigation quickly, but Bao continued to beat her at everything else. Despite his teasing, he offered her advice, usually in a condescending tone. This attention flustered her and she often did worse than before, causing Cai Qian to give her even more pushups. But all those pushups made her strong and soon she could coil ropes and haul cannonballs nearly as fast as Bao.

“Not bad for a river girl,” he said as she finished rolling a sail before him.

“You’re getting soft, am I distracting you?” she teased back.

“Thirty pushups,” said Cai Qian.

***

Zheng Yi led the Eighth Wind to raid Portuguese merchant ships, heavy with exotic goods from Europe. After a few profitable forays, their activities attracted attention. “Portuguese coming! The feather admiral!” Ned squawked from the mast. Sure enough, Admiral Alcoforado’s Inconquistável was approaching.

Zheng Yi shouted and the men fell into their battle stations. Cai Qian shoved an axe into her hand. “Cut any grappling hook lines they throw. Don’t let them board.” Her mouth was dry with nerves as she took her position, but she didn’t flinch as the cannons, directed by Bao, started firing.

The ships closed together and lines started flying through the air. Yang weaved around the shouting men, cutting the ropes as they appeared. She was too slow on one and Ned shrieked a warning. A Portuguese sailor climbed up the ship, sabre in his teeth. Without thinking, she hit him with the flat of the axe and he fell into the water. “Blimey, that was close!” Ned said. Yang yelled in triumph and Zheng Yi, who’d seen the whole thing, clapped her on the shoulder.

The pirates handily won the battle. Zheng Yi ordered the Portuguese stripped to their underwear and tied up, then liberated the Inconquistável of the tax money in its coffers. “You will regret this!” Admiral Alcoforado, hands bound to the mast and feather in his hat quivering with rage.

“I don’t think so, rooster,” said the Pirate King. The crew jeered at the hapless Portuguese as they sailed away.

That night, they celebrated as only pirates could and Shi Yang was included as a full-blooded member of the crew. Overburdened with treasure, the Eighth Wind headed to Hong Kong. Bao’s respect for Shi Yang had grown after the battle and he offered to show her around the city. They giddily spent their share of the profits on delicacies, silk clothes, and, in Yang’s case, her own sword.

The Eighth Wind set out to sea again, crew in high spirits. However, Admiral Alcoforado was pursuing them like a man possessed. A few days into their voyage, the Inconquistável appeared on the horizon along with a dark wall of storm clouds. The Pirate King grimaced. “It’ll be a hard fight in this storm. We must all fight, even you,” he told Shi Yang.

She helped batten down the hatches and gripped her new sword as the Portuguese ship closed in on them. Rain began to hammer on the deck, drenching the grim-faced pirates. Aiming the cannons was impossible in the tossing waves so the ships grappled together, Bao throwing their lines. As the pirates boarded, the Portuguese opened with a volley of musket fire. Cai Qian fell, holding his head, and Zheng Yi led the charge with a roar.

On board the Inconquistável, Shi Yang and Bao fought back to back, holding off the sailors. In the chaotic weather, the discipline of the Portuguese navy gave them the upper hand. Through the rain, Yang spotted Zheng Yi dueling with Admiral Alcoforado. She and Bao watched as The Pirate King furiously drove the admiral against the railing. He raised his sword in victory, but Admiral Alcoforado pulled a revolver from his jacket.

“I told you that you’d regret crossing me,” he said as he shot Zheng Yi square in the chest. The Pirate King collapsed and fell into the roiling sea. Screaming, Zheng Bao dropped his sword and rushed forward as his father disappeared over the railing. Shi Yang pulled him back to safety on the Eighth Wind, though she felt his pain like it was her own. She looked around desperately for someone to lead them out of this nightmare, but all the pirates were fighting for their lives. They couldn’t win.

“Fall back!” she yelled, her high-pitched voice carrying over the sounds of the storm and battle. To her shock, the pirates listened to her, and they all retreated back onto the Eighth Wind. Yang led a few men to cut the lines holding the ships together, and Cai Qian, still bleeding from the head, directed them to sail away. Zheng Bao shut himself in the captain’s cabin and Cai Qian went below decks to recover from his injuries, so Shi Yang took charge, plotting a course and assigning tasks as the rain continued to fall. The crew rode out the storm in miserable silence.

***

Finally, the storm abated. Bao had not reappeared, so Shi Yang broke into the captain’s cabin to confront him.

“You need to take charge, be the captain you’ve trained to be.”

“I don’t know what to do next.” He looked defeated.

“We’ve got to keep running,” she said gently.

He nodded. “You’re right. We’ll head for Tung Chung Bay, hide there and hope they pass us by.”

Shi Yang frowned. “The Portuguese will sail past the bay on their way back to Macau, are you sure?”

“It’s the closest safe place, we’ll recuperate there.”

The Pirate Prince’s word was law on board the ship. The tired men trimmed the sails and the Eighth Wind navigated into the narrow bay to drop anchor for the night.

Ned’s screeches woke her the next morning. “The feather admiral! And friends!” She rushed up to the deck, her heart sinking as she saw six Portuguese warships, led by the Inconquistável, at the mouth of the bay. They were trapped.

She met Bao and Cai Qian on the rear deck. “What are we going to do, captain?” she asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Bao said, chewing his lip. “We can’t fight them head on, that’s for sure.”

“We could abandon the ship and disappear into the forest,” Cai Qian said. When Bao and Yang stared at him, he shrugged. “It’s an option. We’d live to fight another day.”

“We can’t abandon my father’s ship,” Bao said resolutely. “Tell the men to get combat ready. If they get any closer, we’ll hit them with the cannons.” Cai Qian bowed and began issuing orders, leaving Yang and Bao to watch the enemy ships.

In the afternoon, a Portuguese ship began to approach them. Bao leapt up and ordered the cannons to start firing. The pirates made several direct hits but the ship kept coming. Suspicious, Shi Yang looked through the spyglass. “Bao, cease fire! It’s a fireship, there’s no one on board!”

The cannonfire stopped and Bao rejoined her. Sure enough, the ship began to smoke. “The bay’s too narrow, there’s no way to avoid it,” Bao said.

“Don’t give up yet, there must be a way out of this,” she said. She watched the flags fluttering in the breeze as she thought. “Look, we’re in luck! The wind is changing.”

“Yes?”

“And the tide’s going out.” A plan snapped together in her mind. “If we grapple onto the fireship and sail towards the Portuguese, the wind and tide will carry it into the fleet. Then we can escape through the hole in the blockade.”

Bao saw the conviction in her eyes. “I trust you,” he said. “Tell the crew what you need.”

Shi Yang leapt into action, issuing instructions quickly to the crew. A few of them looked surprised, but obeyed after Bao backed her up. Soon the Eighth Wind sailed alongside the fireship, now fully ablaze. Bao aimed the grappling hooks to snag on the most solid parts of the fireship. The ropes, sodden with seawater to prevent them burning, went taut as the Eighth Wind pulled against the fireship, which slowly reversed its direction. As they continued to sail towards the blockade, the ropes slackened and the fireship started to drift on its own, carried by the tide.

“It’s working!” Bao said in amazement.

Yang grinned. “Of course it is!” She took up the now-familiar job of cutting the ropes attaching them to the fireship, then directed Cai Qian to maneuver behind it. The smoking ship provided cover as they came into cannon range of the Portuguese ships, but Bao managed to land a few cannon shots over the fireship and onto the Inconquistável.

They were now close enough to see the plumed hat of Admiral Alcoforado darting around the deck, trying to get the Inconquistável to move out of the way of the fireship. He failed. The fireship collided with the frigate, setting it alight. The other Portuguese captains moved away to keep their ships safe and the Eighth Wind shot through the resulting gap. The Portuguese ships lingered to rescue the sailors from the burning Inconquistável, including the wet and humiliated Admiral Alcoforado. To add insult to injury, Ned swooped down to steal his feathered hat. The admiral shook his fist at the retreating junk. “That was a dirty trick! I’ll get you one day, you sea dogs!”

Of course, Shi Yang and Bao couldn’t hear him. They were busy celebrating their daring escape with the crew. “It was all Shi Yang’s idea,” Bao told anyone who congratulated him. “She always knows what to do.”

“In fact,” he shouted, “I have an announcement to make.” He beckoned Shi Yang over, then took her hands. She blushed, unsure what he was thinking. “I would like to nominate Shi Yang to become the new captain of the Eighth Wind. All in favor, say aye!”

The ayes from the crew were unanimous and enthusiastic. Ned tried to vote multiple times, bobbing up and down and shrieking, “Aye, aye, aye!” until Cai Qian threw a bottle at him.

“Very well, I accept,” Shi Yang said, beaming. “But I also have a request for you, Bao.” She gripped his hands. “Will you be my boyfriend?”

This time the cheers from the crew nearly deafened her, but she did not care as Bao had drawn her in for a kiss. The Eighth Wind sailed into the sunset, led by the woman that the South China Sea would come to know as the Pirate Queen.

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