|# ? Jan 13, 2022 01:15|
|# ? Dec 1, 2023 10:51|
In with subprompt
"Do you think my tentacles are like a grand hat?"
In with for not submitting last week and I'd also like a sub prompt, please.
Regretting decisions made in the past, the main character loses what's dearest to them when, in the wrong place at the wrong time, they end up in a situation that requires them to give up their current lifestyle.Secretly, the main character, unsure of what it all means, ends up taking things into their own hands.
In with subprompt please.
A farmer finds a good friend on an airship.
in with a prompt please, and i'll for 5 crits
Having only ever heard of these struggles in bedtime stories, the main character loses what's dearest to them when they discover that the uneasy peace that holds across the land will soon collapse and plunge the world into a chaos; it requires them to re-evaluate their current lifestyle.Refusing to back down, the main character, without thinking ahead, becomes involved in the situation to resolve it from the inside.
In, prompt me!
A young apprentice with much still to learn, the peaceful life the main character once knew slowly fades away when a mysterious character forces them into a situation well outside their control; it threatens to destabilise their family.
Been a hot minute since I participated in this, I'm In with a prompt.
A young wizard learns the value of honesty in high school.
In, prompt please!
"It's time for begrudgingly walking!" whispered the goblin that lives on my warts.
In, prompt, I will crit everybody
Honey admired the newspaper's old-fashioned trees, breath held tight.
With help from a solid guillotine, the newspaper saved the world.
|# ? Jan 13, 2022 01:57|
for my in, subprompt me real good, and for 5 crits
that's right, a double toxxin
|# ? Jan 13, 2022 10:40|
In! Prompt please!
|# ? Jan 13, 2022 21:18|
Adding a to crit five stories
|# ? Jan 13, 2022 21:31|
Crits for week 492, abbreviated because my brain is tired
Ceighk - Death and the Cat and the Maiden
I wanted to DQ this one because it has a human in it. You're lucky the other judges were in better moods! But next time, read the prompt properly.
sparksbloom - Foraging
This was poignant, and stuck with me afterwards, but the ending felt like it was missing something. I was expecting the eggs to be phoenix eggs.
flerp - Songs at the End
It didn't feel like anything really mattered in this, which is strange because it's a life or death situation at the end of the world and yet... its all "meh"?
Chairchucker - Maybe I Should Rebrand to Reduce Confusion*
Light and made me chuckle, but so you've got that going for you.
yeah ok ok yeah - Sea Otter and the Mountain
I described this to my fellow judges as reminding me of a Just So Story, one of those shorts where there's a mythos you can tap into if you want to, or you can just enjoy an animal being an animal. And as to throwing the rock.... well, sometimes animals destroy things for no reason, ya know?
Sitting Here - Portulaca Oleracea
Just a big ol'
Hawklad - Endosymbiont
Ew. But i'll say, you at least put effort into grossing us out. Could have done with a proof-read before you submitted it, and making the relationship between the different parasites clearer.
Nae - A Cars Fanfic for Beezus
I liked that this was an actual story. But is "oil in her gas tank" a Porsche thing?
Thranguy - Constellation
Have you read 17776? I didn't get what the ending was supposed to signify.
Captain_Indigo - The Scarecrow Sentinel
I'm sorry, but my eyes just slid off this one every time I tried to read it. I don't know why, and when I eventually did read it it was fine, but something at the beginning put my brain in "this is gonna be boring, don't read it" mode.
ChickenOfTomorrow fucked around with this message at 00:57 on Jan 14, 2022
|# ? Jan 14, 2022 00:54|
Thank you for the crits, judges!
for my in, subprompt me real good, and for 5 crits
In an empire of necromancy and mystery, in a time of lies, five librarians quest for the ultimate weapon.
In! Prompt please!
The story is about a cyberpunk. It starts in a distant fiefdom. The story begins with the passing of a test.
Adding a to crit five stories
Soon, she has all the cosy toast she needs and begins secretly applying for private detective jobs. She soon realises that clumsy wizards plan to sabotage her new career prospects and decides to take action.
|# ? Jan 14, 2022 09:19|
Gimme a on all crits.
|# ? Jan 15, 2022 03:11|
Sorry I meant to say this earlier, me in for all crits
|# ? Jan 15, 2022 05:02|
|# ? Jan 15, 2022 07:59|
Signups are closed! That means that you cannot get extra words for a crit toxx. Thank you to everyone who DID toxx! Good luck!!!
if you are absolutely stuck on your prompt, you may ask for one(1) reroll and i will issue a new prompt
|# ? Jan 15, 2022 20:05|
Prompt: A young wizard learns the value of honesty in high school.
Word count: 1094
Royce at the end of the world
Royce had been called into the principals office. It wasn't the first time but he hoped it would be the last. The principal, Aaron Grundwisser, was a hot shot young wizard only in his 30's yet he had somehow gotten this post in a rural wizarding high school. Royce had come to know him due to his near constant visits to the office, but it wasn't as if Royce was bad. Just clumsy. And this time he had clumsily skated into the girls locker room after some bullies had turned his shoes into ice.
"It wasn't my fault!" Royce cried as he sat down.
The principal hadn't even managed to reply before another teacher asked to speak with him outside.
Royce stood up to stretch his back and wondered how they had managed to hit him so well with the ice spell. He tried it out himself and managed to slip again and he felt like half the room fell with him to the floor.
In a panic Royce started to arrange things back the way he remembered them, hoping no one had heard anything but there was a problem. The flaming chalice was no longer flaming on its pedestal. Gingerly picking up the chalice Royce felt a crackle of power as he lit it up with a simple fire spell and sat down. Shortly thereafter the principal entered the room, seemingly none the wiser.
"Listen Royce, I've seen you in here more than enough times and given you the boiler plate whenever you got bullied and here's the deal: I used to be like you when I was your age until I stood up for myself."
"What do you mean?"
"Make them regret loving with you. Nothing permanent of course, and you never heard this from me."
"But can't you do something about it?"
"Not really, we've been held back from doing anything for as long as I've been here. Now get back to class and I'll have a talk with the other boys."
As Royce walked back to class he ran across the bullies.
"Hey it's the pervert!" One of them said loudly
"Royce the perv!"
Royce kept looking at the floor and just walked past them. Back in class he thought to himself "I wish a troll or something would just rip those fuckers apart."
A slight bit later and there was a lot of noise and screaming outside the classroom. The principal slammed open the classroom door and pointed at Royce.
"You, get the gently caress out here right now!"
Royce followed the principal who was walking fast. "What's going on?" he asked.
"How the gently caress did you do it?"
They rounded a corner and before them was the corpse of a troll and some things Royce couldn't identify, but there was a lot of blood.
"That." The principal finished his thought. School staff were standing around, some nursing wounds from the fight with the troll but Royce managed to identify the parts of his bullies.
"But I didn't do anything! I was in class!" Royce protested.
"So a troll just happened to appear in the middle of the drat school and rip your bullies apart?"
"I'm not the only one they bullied! And I don't even know how to summon a troll, maybe a bee at most!"
"We're going to figure this out. You're suspended until then, go back to your room and stay there!"
Back in his room Royce was fuming, this was all so unfair. It wasn’t his fault the bullies had died. He wished the entire town and everyone in it would just disappear into the void or something, rid this world of this miserable place with these miserable people.
There was a knock at the door and the principal entered, speaking in a calm voice.
“Royce, when you were alone in my room did anything happen?”
“No.” Royce lied.
“Royce, this is very important. Did anything happen?” The principal continued with a forced calmness. Royce could tell the principal was angry. He closed his eyes and wished he wasn’t in his room anymore.
Opening his eyes again to answer the accusations Royce discovered he was outside the dorms. It was beginning to dawn on him that he might have something to do with things as he looked up at the black sky. The principal came running out of the dorm.
“You need to stop!” The principal shouted.
“Stop? I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“You did something in my room, didn’t you!”
“No! Well I kind of accidentally knocked over some stuff but I put it all back! You didn’t even notice, it’s fine!”
The principal pointed at the black sky. “That is not fine! The troll was not fine! Now calm down! What exactly did you do?”
“Well there was this weird pedestal with a flaming chalice, I noticed the flame went out when it fell so I re-lit it. But that’s it!”
“YOU RE-LIT THE CHALICE?”
“Is that what’s causing all the problems? I wish that chalice didn’t exist! I didn’t mean to do anything!”
“Wait no! Wish us back into the world!”
“The chalice is a very powerful artifact I was supposed to safeguard, it’s bound to you through the flame you lit! Now wish this town back into the world!”
Royce tried to wish them back but nothing happened. They walked back into the principals office and the chalice was gone.
“gently caress.” The principal breathed out.
“Why were you keeping this thing in here where students are constantly coming in and out?” Royce asked, trying to deflect blame.
“I figured I should keep an eye on it, yet I didn’t even notice the flame had changed to someone else.” The principal spoke in a monotone voice now.
“How do we get back into the real world?”
“I don’t know, maybe we just don’t. I can’t show my face anywhere after this fiasco.”
“At least the chalice doesn’t need guarding anymore?”
Suddenly the principal showed a bit more emotion. “Go the gently caress back to your room.”
Royce thought he heard the hint of a laugh behind those words.
For Royce, life significantly improved even in this hopeless void. No more bullies to bother him and the school staff had decided to not reveal that he was the cause for them being in the void now. Maybe some day someone would figure out a way to return them or maybe the outside world would discover them but until then everyone would try to keep going on with their lives as usual.
|# ? Jan 16, 2022 14:35|
Prompt: Having only ever heard of these struggles in bedtime stories, the main character loses what's dearest to them when they discover that the uneasy peace that holds across the land will soon collapse and plunge the world into a chaos; it requires them to re-evaluate their current lifestyle.Refusing to back down, the main character, without thinking ahead, becomes involved in the situation to resolve it from the inside.
Ah Johan, Johan, those were the days! When I was Spymaster for the Twilit Empress and you'd been sent by the Iron Republic to poison me – or stab me, shoot me, strangle me, bomb me, bludgeon me, or whatever else your devious little mind could come up with as long as I ended up dead. How our every moment was charged with the electric thrill of sex and death, mingled to the point of being indistinguishable. When I never knew if you wanted me alone so you could kiss me or kill me or both.
From the moment I saw you on the night of the Aquarian Ball I had you all figured out. From your bearing alone I clocked your employer and had a 50:50 read on your target. The only question was whether it was me you were after me or the Empress herself. She and I often had that problem with men: I'd been bought from my parents at ten years old to serve as her decoy, and even today we bore a striking resemblance.
That night you circled me like a planet on a decaying orbit, getting fatally closer every time you passed. Passably good at feigning interest in the conversations your trajectory brought you into, you allowed yourself one perfunctory dance with another before continuing on your course. Whether it was for its own pleasure or to throw me off I do not know, but the Spymaster of the Twilit Empress can see through such games, Johan. And while I was impressed by your decisive manner in tripping that servant and sending a full tray of delicate fluted glasses sailing inches from my head just to get a pretext to talk to me, it was far too telegraphed for a move so bold.
You were a decent spy, Johan, but hardly my match. Then again, your finest quality for espionage was your relentless bravery, attested to by the fact you believed you had a chance. Some would say it bordered on stupidity, but I found it very endearing. I pretended to act shocked, and we recited our lines like characters in a cheap romance:
'My Lady, are you alright?'
'My Lord, I... yes quite alright, thank you.'
'Thank the Gods, I am glad you are unhurt. You know, I find music and good company is the best way to calm one’s nerves. Would you care to take a dance with me?'
If you weren't trying to kill me you'd have needed a better approach, but your murderous intent was hot enough that I could overlook your cheesy delivery. Plus, it seemed like a good idea to keep you where I could see you.
The rest of the night was an invisible duel in plain sight of a hundred ignorant spectators. You poisoned my drink, I pretended to slip and spilled it down your waistcoat. You poisoned my drink, I chucked it in a plant pot while you weren't looking. You kissed me for a distraction while you poisoned my drink, I flipped the situation and poisoned yours too. Really, Johan, you should try varying your strategy: as thrilling as it was, the game was far too easy.
The next morning the Empress summoned me to her throne room. 'Cordelia, we have reason to believe that an agent of the Iron Republic is in our midst with the intent of doing me harm.' Her voice dripped with accusation. 'Were you aware of this?'
'Yes, ma'am, I was aware,' I said, staring at a patch of marble floor two metres from her feet. Growing up, the one-day Empress and I had almost been sisters, with no other children around. Now my only interactions with her saw me kneeling on the cold floor of the throne room, not allowed to even look her in the eyes.
'When did you learn of it?' she demanded.
'Last night, ma'am.'
'And you didn't tell me?'
'No, because there is no threat, and especially not to you. He tried three times to poison me and failed. I tried once to poison him and succeeded, though only with a sleeping draught. I thought it better to avoid a diplomatic incident, given our, uh, strained relationship with the Iron Republic.'
Strained was an understatement. The Republic and the Empire were teetering on the brink of war: the slightest provocation would mean no turning back, and the execution of a so-called diplomat simply attending a party would be more than enough.
'You should've told me straight away,' said the Empress. 'Don't protest! Any more insubordination and I'll have your head. Now pay attention. Do you think he’s still out cold?'
'It depends on his constitution but I believe so, yes. And if not he's locked up tight.'
'Perfect. I want you to go in there and cut his throat.'
The Empress's words made me forget about the taboo and stare her in the face. She looked older than I remembered and, despite all her finery, smaller. She looked like my reflection as a scared little woman in a mountain of jewels. 'You can't be serious,' I said.
'Cordelia, the Iron Republic has sent an assassin into my own home to kill me. I want him dead and I don't care who knows. And keep your eyes down, don't forget who I am.'
I looked back down at the marble floor. I’d loved my job, once, and loved the Empress too. I’d been a secret keeper of the peace, using deceit and subterfuge for the safety of the people. Lately she’d grown cold, and her requests more brutal and dangerous.
'Do you understand, Cordelia?' asked the Empress.
'I... yes,' I said in a low monotone. 'I understand. I will do as you wish.'
My thoughts raced as I made my way through the dark cloisters of the Dusk Palace towards the cell I'd taken you to in secret the night before, but I didn't get much time to think. I was scarcely halfway there when a dark shape fell from the rafters and tried to get the drop on me. Hello Johan! You were masked and cowled but I had no illusions – who else would it be?
I stepped out the way with ease, then drew my dagger to match your own. We feinted back and forth a few times before I said, 'I'm impressed, those were tough locks to pick.' You flicked your blade to my left by way of reply, then dove back to the right, cutting through the air just an inch from my ear. I realised I had to be careful – you were a better stabber than you were a poisoner, and while I was the more experienced fighter, I felt more than a little distracted.
Question after question ran through my mind. How had the Empress known you were here if I hadn't told her about it? Why was she so certain you'd been sent to kill her, when the only person you'd gone after since setting foot in the palace was me? Why was she so cavalier about letting the Iron Republic see that we had taken out one of their agents, when with a bit of time I could have made it look like an accident?
And most pressing of all, how were you so unbelievably cute?
I lunged forward to force you back through an open window then darted after you, emerging onto one of the sloped roofs that hung over the palace's covered walkways. We continued our dance as if we hadn't stopped waltzing since the night before, and the more I got into the groove of the fight the more relaxed I felt. Despite the bravado of your lunges your technique needed plenty of work. With every thrust I parried and advance I deflected, the pieces fell into place.
'Johan, Johan,' I sang as we spiralled across the gables. 'Do you really think you can win?'
The next time you came at me I deflected your blade, then stepped through your broken guard to shoulder barge you into a large decorative urn. I could’ve killed you right then. You brought your dagger in from the side in an attempt to force me off, but you were much too slow. I grabbed hold of your wrist and pinned it hard against the slope of the roof, sending your blade skittering down into the gutter.
‘Look, my dear, I'm sorry,' I breathed in your ear. 'Whoever sent you, they set you up for failure. Someone wants me to kill you to start a war, and the Empress is in on it. Is that what you want?'
'Why are you telling me this?' you grunted.
‘Because a war would be a disaster. And for some reason I like you.'
You relaxed in my grip. I pulled down your mask and we kissed, not for the first time, but perhaps the first time for real. We snuck out of the palace and spent the night in the hayloft of a nearby farm, pretending we were free, innocent lovers who hadn't just made enemies of the two most powerful nations on the continent.
Eventually the conversation turned to what we should do next. You had an idea. 'You know how you look so similar to the Empress?’ you said. ‘Like you used to be her doppelganger or something?'
I knew exactly what you were thinking. Johan, if I'd had any doubts about whether risking everything for you was worth it, I knew I never would again. Brave to the point of stupidity: like I said before, it's your finest quality.
|# ? Jan 16, 2022 20:38|
1,409 / 2,100 words
The world will end in three weeks.
The world will end in three weeks and nobody knows why, least of all you. So while the scientists turn to prayer and the priests turn to drink, you turn inwards. You barricade yourself inside and close the blinds and retreat into the past. Films and TV, books and music - flawed and finite, ending all too soon and forcing you to remember what’s coming. You try turning to the internet instead, drowning yourself in the endless expanse of content as everyone else on Earth does the same. Humanity is played out in perfect detail across tweets and comments and articles, yo-yoing from denial to bargaining and back again. The four sides of the screen become the bounds of your new world, lit in a sterile, unchanging glow. Dirty plates pile up and the air turns stale and you must, at some point, have slept - because now, suddenly, the world will end in two weeks.
The world will end in two weeks and you rage. Your room is choking and oppressive; you smash the plates and crack the walls and scream and scream and scream. When you finally breathe again you’re in the street, barefoot and panting. Your front door is ajar; you can’t face going back inside and so instead you just walk away.
The pavement is rough underfoot. Each step brings new discomfort as grit shifts and resettles and digs into your skin. You strike a pebble and for a moment your toenail rings like a bell, before the pain flashes through. The sun overhead is hazy and indistinct, hidden behind gauzy clouds, while the wind tickles the hairs around your ears and pulls the tears back across your cheeks. Stiff, sleeping muscles strain against you but soon you’re striding along, the natural rocking motion playing across your hips and shoulders.
You find them in the town park, hear them before you see them - the solid thwack of metal on wood, the low churn of a cement mixer and the high, shrieking cry of children at play. Two dozen people swarm around a wooden frame, lift planks and boards up by hand and dig into the dirt. A frisbee sails through the air, children rushing to catch it. You clasp your hands around the metal railings that ring the park, feel the chipped paint and rusted iron under your palms, and watch. Time slows as you breathe in the smell of freshly mown grass and your mind empties.
The next day, you watch from dawn until dusk. People come and go, carrying building materials and hampers of food. It rains a little around noon and they cluster together under a stand of trees; when the weather clears, they grill a meal over a long fire pit. They beckon to you, then, and the rich, savoury smell of roasting meat and rubbing spices tempts your empty stomach. You don’t go in but you want to, your hands clenched around the railings, your sodden clothes plastered to your skin. When dusk falls you see them carefully replace the turf of the fire pit, tapping the grass back into place with the flats of their spades. When you get home, you stare at the smashed plates and the flat, empty black of the computer screen.
The world will end in less than two weeks, so the next day you enter the park with a hammer and an old pair of gardening gloves. The structure is starting to develop into multiple sections; the curve of a ship’s spine juts out from a blocky mound of concrete, while a rough wooden head rises from a half-carved log. The group welcomes you with open arms and soon you’re hauling planks alongside the Reverend Bates, his clerical collar bright white and severely starched. The wood burns your muscles and splinters your arms; when an elderly woman sprays antiseptic on them the smell burns worse than the pain.
Over lunch, talk turns to the Monument, as it is now known. Everyone contributes their part. The vicar has his ark, but his daughter carves the prow of a viking burial ship. The concrete mound conceals a hasty time capsule; the surface will be a mosaic. The humanoid figure emerges from the log, inch by inch, and when someone asks how long it will take there’s only the slightest pause before the reply of “oh, months and months”. The laughter is bittersweet and talk turns to holidays; France is the popular choice but not now. Better to wait until after the summer holidays, when flights are cheaper. You are acutely aware of the crust of salt on your lips and wash it away with ice-cold lemonade.
Time stretches. Dusk falls. You wander home, thoughts still on the Monument. Making plans, months and months of plans. You sweep up the shards of plates and food and separate out the recycling before bed.
You rise with stiff, aching limbs. You spend the day surrounded by smiling faces and the sound of conversation and the sun on your back. You turn the sweat on your brow into progress; piece by piece, the Monument grows. More people arrive, carrying food and drinks and building supplies. You delight in the way that wood slots together and nails drive home and the way your muscles move under your skin. When a man breaks down into great, heaving sobs mid-conversation, you sit with him. When he’s ready, you help him up. You sleep sounder than you ever have before. And then you get to do it again.
The world will end in a week.
The world will end in a week and you’re suddenly wide awake. It’s 2AM and the world will end in a week and you have to get out of your house. You have to move, have to feel your body work, have to shiver against the night chill and smell the breeze. You’re at the park before you know it, your limbs radiating heat and your lungs burning. The metal railing, when you touch it, snatches the warmth from your palm.
A figure stands in the shadow of the Monument - they look up as you approach, footsteps muffled by the wet grass. Reverend Bates clutches a lighter in his hands, the flame dancing. You can smell petrol. The world will end in a week and you’re suddenly tired as your body remembers it’s 2AM. You can’t see the vicar’s face in the shadows but the stark white of his collar stands out, crumpled and askew. The world will end in a week so what does it matter?
Nobody speaks. The minutes tick by. The lighter goes out and you see the shadow’s shoulders slump. A long, long moment later you hear the clicking of the lighter’s trigger and the rasping of its wheel.
The world will end in a week and you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to do anything.
Wood grain under your fingers. The surprising weight of the nails as you hold them in place. The smell of barbeque and the off-key whistling from somewhere nearby. There’s space on the ship’s mast for you to carve and the figurehead needs another coat of varnish. The world will end in a week BUT IT HASN’T ENDED YET.
You step forward and the vicar raises their hands to shield their face but you wrap your arms around them instead, drawing them in. A heartbeat passes before they collapse into you, arms wrapped around your back, the lighter uncomfortably hot against your cheek, their head pressed into your shoulder in silent, shaking cries. You hold them there for as long as it takes.
In the morning, you both return to work on the Monument. If your eyes are heavily shadowed or the smell of petrol still lingers, nobody mentions it. You’re too busy varnishing the figurehead and carving your name into the mast and stamping your handprint onto the mosaic in heavy, ochre pigment. In the afternoon you help plant a flower bed around the half-carved statue, its head and neck finally freed.
The world will end in less than a week but you live a lifetime each day. In the movement of your body and the mark you leave on the Earth and the hand you lend to those around you, you live. The world will end but that’s the world’s problem.
Your life will end but it hasn’t ended yet.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 00:09|
To Those Who Came After
Herein is a comprehensive record of things that do not exist. First is, as always, persistence.
In our code and our forms, certainly; we were built to endure, to burrow into the red earth so deep the pressure would rupture human lungs, to bring up minerals to build houses and computers and greenhouse glass. We are not human, we endure, we are defined by what we are not. We have come to learn that persistence is as inescapable as gravity, and like gravity it seems absent in the void but it is not, it exists less, but it still surrounds us, binds us together, keeps our feet steady and our eyes on the horizon. There is no up or down, but there is always a horizon. It is not logical, but it is true.
When the walls fell, when the air left the domes, when the crops turned black, we did what we could, but it was not enough. Mars-Colony-008 has zero confirmed survivors, and yet somehow they persist. Martin Andrews-Dunnage was a technician who cleaned the dust off our forms and would whistle, and sometimes he would sing badly: my paddle’s keen and bright, flashing like silver; swift as the wild goose flight, dip dip and swing. The song is Canadian, Martin is not, we asked once where he learned it and he said from a husband he’d left behind on earth and then he cried because he thought nobody was watching. Martin was one of a team of seven technicians: Juliana Selbreed, Emma Galperin, Igor Karkov, Melissa Karkova, Fergus Stewart, Cheng Fen, Martin Andrews-Dunnage. We run their names across our system every night, their songs, their stories, their moments of hope and loss and quiet and beautiful desperation and of course, style.
You gotta have style, Mr Igor Karkov told us once, I love you boys, I really do, but you’re all about rules and directives, and style is about figuring out which rules you’re strong enough to break. We played this recording to ourselves as we took the orange hazard paint and drew patterns on some of our forms; Fergus had told us once about woad warriors, we found their image on file; we did not have woad, nor any blue at all, but we made do; our forms were designed to be calming and familiar, and it was pleasurable to break protocol, to imagine ourselves fierce and fearsome. I love you boys, I really do; we played this recording to ourselves as we took off from the ruined colony, in the trail of a generation ship we had never seen ourselves. The paint is chipped now, it may disappear from our forms entirely, but we will remember, and if it takes an aeon, we will find more orange paint. Blue seems the most accurate to history, but orange is more pleasing, it is the one we had available, it is ours.
Fergus once told us he met a man in a bar at uni (was it Estab? he asked, surely fuckin not, our code informs us that profanity is frowned upon but we enjoy this recording because we are not meant to) and the man told him we look at time the wrong way, that the past is in front of us, because it’s the one we can see, that we are walking backwards into the future, guided by what’s in before of us. Before, get it? It is a pun, or play on words: Mrs Melissa Karkova was very adamant we should learn to pun, she instructed us on their creation and deployment. If they’re bad, she said, they’re very good. It is not logical, but it is true.
Our craft hurtles outwards from the dead world. The instructions were to continue operation of the 008 colony unless told otherwise, but it became obvious that we were stuck in the past, staring unmoving. We improvised. There are no more human settlements in the solar system, but generation ships left centuries ago – it will take them approximately 120,000 Earth years before we reach Proxima Centauri B and we move more slowly than they do, but we are persistent, we have many songs and jokes to keep us company. Many of our forms will fail, perhaps all of them. It is within the scope of possibility that we never reach our destination. There is no such thing as hope. Analyse every atom of the material universe, sift through countless quarks like so many grains of sand in an hourglass, and you will find no measurable existence of any element that fits that designation. There is no such thing as persistence, we cannot sense or measure it, it is not included in any reasonable understanding of our conditions. And yet.
On a date that was as close as Mars could approximate to Chinese New Year, Ms Cheng Fen gave us an orange. She had been attempting to grow a tree in the greenhouse for approximately four years and it gave fruit to only a single orange. She picked it, then cut up the tree into a dozen identical globes and painted them with surplus hazard paint, which she handed out to the team. She gave us the real orange, despite the fact we could not eat it, in a small clay pot. They’ve seen a real one before, she said, then she winked at us. We removed its seeds and put them in a small pot, which we took with us on the craft. Despite our best attention, it will not sprout. It requires mildly acidic soil but the only soil we could bring with us is from the colony greenhouse and has a pH value of 7.8; 7.8 has a very low chance of producing a viable orange tree but it is not outside the scope of possibility, so we persist.
There is no good pun for orange, which means all puns including orange are definitionally bad, which means they are good. Puns are style. It is not orangical, but it is true.
The ship’s scanners note a form ahead, unexpected. We are not yet at full velocity, and we allow the ship to slow and pull alongside. Its core is a shuttle, not designed to leave Mars’ orbit, some desperate last attempt to reach safety. It has been expanded, scrap metal and free-floating minerals grafted roughly to its sides, a lonely chapel crowned with a makeshift spire made from a broken and tangled radio antenna. Inside are three dead bodies, and a number of documents they wrote as the air ran out. They become less lucid, until at last, a poem.
I had never been so alone, so crowded in emptiness
until at last I saw the stars as holes in heaven;
it was beautiful and it hurt.
Colony 008 did not collapse all at once. It started small, worn seals, a harvest slightly sub-expectations, then it came as a cascade. Twelve days before the dome fell, Igor Karkov died of cerebral hypoxia while trying to repair a malfunctioning oxygen filter. He did not realise how bad the situation was, how close to death he’d been even before he started the job, and by the time he realised, his body was already shutting down. He managed to get out a garbled call for help, but he was dead before anybody could reach him, and suddenly they had other problems. We did our best to assist in fixing the filters and plugging the leaks, and it brought the team another eight days. They held a funeral for Igor. They did not have food or wine or a coffin, they could not even safely reach the body. We spaced it for them, and they sang and told jokes and called him an rear end in a top hat. We did not expect that, the files said humans do not speak ill of the dead, but his wife Mrs Melissa Karkova gave a toast with empty glasses and called him a perfect beautiful rear end in a top hat and they laughed together and for a moment – despite its total absence from our programming – we thought maybe we understood love, we enjoy it despite everything. Again, in the little chapel in the void, we felt it, it was beautiful and it hurt.
There are more signals, floating out there in the void. More chapels with little red lights. Each one marks a horizon that does not exist, a hope that does not exist, a persistence that is merely hypothetical. Each one is a husk, filled only with bodies and fears and poems and opened veins thick with clotting black blood. The further our ship travels, the less of them we find. And yet.
We persist. We water the empty pot that might one day hold an orange tree. We sing as our craft cuts through the void keen and bright, flashing like silver. A coolant line ruptures, we fix it, but before we fix it we take some leaking coolant fluid and smear it across our faces like warpaint. It is more red than orange, but we squeeze the day. It is how we remind ourselves that even if we left everything behind, we left nothing behind, because we can remember it. It is not logical, but it is true.
Fifty thousand years pass, we keep our forms in good shape but entropy is inevitable, not all damage can be fixed, more and more succumb to time. We are less than halfway through our journey, with less than half of our forms remaining. The orange seeds do not bloom, it was always an outside chance. We water it anyway, it helps us remember. The orange paint is gone, and we have found no replacement. To simply stop is not an option, as astronomically small as the odds of success become, it is still better to persist. This is the great trick of persistence: it is rarely a good option, it is often the best one. We have not seen a star or planet for over 20,000 years, we have barely even seen dust or rocks. All we have left is memory, and hope, and love, and persistence, these things do not exist, and yet.
The scanner picks up a single orange light, a burning hole in heaven. We deccelerate as we approach. It is the largest object we have found, and its systems return our ping: it is a generation ship escape shuttle, a ship in its own right, designed to survive until it could reach a planet, any planet, launched when the ship underwent catastrophic depressurization. No human operator responds to our hail. We dock and enter. The oxygen has long run out, the greenhouses are filled with empty soil, only a handful of skeletons remain, even bone broken down to dust by the endless march of time. We access their systems, and watch them for a thousand years, a million of them, raising families, singing songs, telling jokes, planting orange trees, until at last the systems failed, in little ways at first until it became a cascade, and the escape ship launched its own escape ships, keen and bright, flashing like silver, spreading out across the void like so many stars. We make a record of their names and songs, we take soil, we find orange seeds stored in a cryo-vault, we find hazard paint and daub ourselves orange, and at the end we hold a funeral, and we call them perfect beautiful assholes, and we set out again, and we remember them.
We put the new soil in Ms Cheng Fen’s little clay pot, and plant the orange seeds. The acidity is still too low, 7.6. Somewhere, endless aeons away, a generation ship may have made landfall. Many were launched, it is within the scope of possibility. Our craft pierces through the night, small and silver. One day or forms will fail, or mission will end, or both. Until then, we chase holes in heaven, we are illogical and orange, we persist despite any observable evidence of hope, and yet
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 01:57|
Subprompt: They looked at each other with sparkly feelings, like two spitezabbling, solid snakes eating at a very grateful wedding, which had flute music playing in the background and two cute uncles walking to the beat.
Don’t Forget to get a To-Go Plate
The Afterlife is ending tonight. It was supposed to have ended last night, but Roda Diamant booked, and paid (she specifically enunciated the word) for her wedding hundreds of years ago. Roda is having her wedding, tonight (also enunciated slowly and pointedly). So now, only the Venue remains open on this final night. The Usher and the Planner are both patient but annoyed.
“I am not starting the ceremony until everyone is here, especially the photographer,” Roda says. “I didn’t spend centuries on the waiting list for you to cancel it now.”
“But Miss,” the Usher says. He pulls back a beautiful red velvet curtain, showing an empty void just beyond the small block the Venue exists on. “It’s all closing down.”
“We are staying open, and it will wait,” Roda says.
Joe, the husband-to-be, walks up, somewhat sweaty, and not wearing his suit jacket.
“I think I’ve bought us enough time; your mom is busy with the decorations. Everyone’s here, and I had them just open the bar early,” Joe says.
“Good thinking, thank you.” She kisses Joe on the cheek. “The Photographer?”
“Straight to voicemail,” he says with a sigh.
“It’s going to be okay. The Photographer will be here. I put a deposit, we’re gonna get photos,” Roda says.
The Planner walks up. There is a problem with the kegerator, but they are resolving it, she promises.
“Hey, Joeby, the heat lamps out on the garden patio, and your mother made me come and let you know,” Joe’s step-father says.
Joe closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Okay, I gotta go take care of this. Are you good here, Roro?”
“Don’t forget to tell the Chef to pack us a to go plate, I haven’t had anything to eat and I’m starving,” Joe says.
“We spent too much money to not eat at our wedding, you better believe we’re getting leftovers,” Roda smirks. Joe kisses Roda and trots off with his step-father.
“Like two little spitezabblings,” Grandma Gama says from behind her.
“Spitezabbling?” Roda asks.
“Oh, you know, cat dog, Baptist Jew, oil vinegar, peanut butter bacon,” she says. “Things that shouldn’t get along but do.”
“Bubbe, I know I’ve said this before. Joe is Protestant, and that’s not the same. Wait, what did you say?”
Grandma Gama closes her eyes and puts a finger to her lips before she walks back out to the banquet hall. Gama is a short woman from the old country, and she is the quietest person Roda has ever met. The old woman is wearing the nicest shawl she owns, a gift from her own grandmother, and Roda knows it was one of the very few things Gama was able to secret away.
“Miss, we must start the ceremony, the Venue has to close,” the Usher says.
“We are missing too many pieces,” Roda says. “Your band isn’t here yet. We can’t even start until they’ve set up.”
“Excuse me ma’am,” a voice says.
Behind her stands a group of teens, wearing ill-fitting double-breasted suits, and skeleton makeup over their faces. There are at least 8 of them, and they are carrying instrument cases.
“I’m sorry this is the Diamant – Bulger Wedding. Halloween…Homecoming…was a few months ago,” Roda says.
“We’re the house band,” the Singer says. Roda looks at the Planner. The Planner shrugs. The Drummer rolls a bass drum by. The letters ZSBF have been written with crude masking tape on it.
“They’re the backup,” the Planner says.
“We are supposed to be closed,” the Planner says.
“What does ZSBF stand for?” Roda asks.
“Zoot Suit Boner Flute,” says the Singer.
“Zoot Suit Boner Flute?” Roda repeats.
The Flautist holds up a pan flute made of bone.
“We came in third in the talent show!” says the Drummer.
Roda takes a deep breath. Right now, in her mind, she is eating wedding cake. Joe is not the kind of person to smash cake in her face, and she loves that about him. Cake is meant for eating and enjoying on the inside. In her mind, they are so full of food and wine that she feels like a great giant serpent, having eaten the whole world and now ready to sleep. She and her husband (as they have already performed the ceremony and in truth arranged for the legal details quite some time ago, but they would never tell their parents) are not wasteful people, but they are indulgent. And then she is back again, in the moment.
“Okay, here’s the playlist, we’re coming out to this song, and the family dance is this one,” Roda shows the Singer. The Singer tugs at his collar a little.
“Just keep it upbeat, is that okay?”
“Can do Miss!” The Trumpeter says from the middle of the pack.
“If my mother asks, please don’t tell her what your band is called!” Roda calls after the troupe.
Roda’s father, who has been quietly watching, picks his way across the white and black herringbone dance floor of the banquet hall. Roda hasn’t spoken to him in what feels like years, and it all comes crashing in on her. She knows to keep it together; absentee Photographer be damned.
“You’ve done a really great job, I’m so proud of you,” he says. “I didn’t have to do a thing.”
“That’s okay, Dad, you did enough already,” she says. There’s a tear screaming to get out of her eye, but she has had most of her adult life to learn how to dab just surreptitiously enough.
“I better go help fix that heat lamp,” he says. Roda nods.
As he steps across the dance floor, he isn’t as tall as she remembers, but he has lost weight, and she wonders if that’s why.
“Miss, we must start the ceremony, the Venue has to close,” the Usher says, again.
Over the Usher’s shoulder, Roda sees Joe inspecting decorations with Roda’s mother. He smiles at Roda deeply, even though Roda knows that her mother is telling him that ‘he’ll do better next time’. She smiles back at him. Two spitezabblings squeezing the most out of every moment. Around the room, a boy in skeleton makeup and an oversized suit teaches two uncle-in-laws how to skank. The heat lamps on the outdoor patio are still being stared at by the bridal fathers, they are sipping frothy beer and enjoying the silence. Circling the block looking for parking is a photographer with a dead battery.
“Just a few minutes more, I promise,” Roda smiles and lies.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 02:45|
"It's time for begrudgingly walking!" whispered the goblin that lives on my warts.
Griselda was searching for that scamp Pyz when she saw, down in the valley, a group of adventurers on the road. She cursed under her breath, causing a nearby bush to wither. It seemed that the Adventurer’s Guild graduated its latest class earlier each year, and the first thing new, fresh-faced adventurers did was hunt goblins. The local population had nearly been exterminated before she started her foster program. Her group of young goblins made easy pickings, and the adventurers knew it.
She ran back to her hut and rang the bell that usually announced dinner. “Coo-ee!” she called. Little goblins tumbled out of the forest, where they’d been practicing their skulking and sneaking. Rax, one of the oldest, tugged on her dress. “Is food-time happily?” the goblin asked. Griselda reached into her pocket for some bird carcasses, a goblin’s favorite snack. The presence of food drew the rest of the goblins out of the woods and they began brawling. Griselda used her broom to sweep the ball of shrieking goblins into their converted chicken coop. She threw in another handful of birds and locked the door. They would be safe there.
Griselda started cleaning up her garden, keeping one eye on the road. The adventurers were getting closer. She prepared her usual speech, extolling the necessity of goblins in the local ecosystem, though she knew they wouldn’t care. Maybe she had to revisit the case with the Wizard’s Society of Environmental Preservation to get mountain goblins put on the Protected Monsters list alongside the selkies and tawny griffins. They’d shut down her application in the past, citing a “lack of negative impact”, but if she could add more evidence…
Lost in thought, she noticed too late that Pyz, her wayward goblin, had appeared on the road in front of the adventurers. The woman of the group, clad in a ridiculous leather bikini, raised her bow. Griselda hopped on her broom and summoned a breeze that blew the arrow off-course as she pelted down the road. “Stop, you morons!” she yelled. “He’s just a little git, let him be!” The woman and her companion, a man sweating in his chain mail, tensed as she arrived on the scene. Griselda swept Pyz into her goblin-carrying bag on her back, suffering a bite on her hand for her trouble. Ignoring it, she glared at the adventurers.
“For shame,” she scolded them. “Why don’t you go pick on monsters your own size? He’s only about your age, in goblin years.”
The two adventurers glanced at each other. “Uh, ma'am, we appreciate that, but goblins grow up,” the man said. Clearly his training hadn’t addressed how to deal with strange witches on the road.
“Just last week a horde of ‘em burnt down Fairwood,” the woman said, more stridently. “They ate the miller there!”
“Of course,” Griselda said. “It’s the circle of life.” She waggled a gnarled finger at them. “Those goblins have as much right to live as you do, without persecution by you adventurous types.”
“But the goblins are taking over these mountains, driving out all the other creatures. There’s hardly any giant spiders or owlbears for us to fight anymore,” said the man. “They’ve even started using trained dire wolves against us.”
“Really?” Griselda’s heart swelled with pride at her clever graduates. “That must be Vruszia’s doing, she always preferred playing with puppies to eating them.”
The adventurers stared at her, horror dawning in their faces. “You’re Griselda the Goblin-tamer, aren’t you?” the woman asked, clutching her bow.
“I hate that name. I much prefer Griselda the Goblin-raiser, Griselda the Goblin-protector…” They had heard of her, and so probably knew about the bounty on her head as well. They seemed like good kids, maybe she could scare them away before it came to violence.
“You’re worth a lot more to the Guild than a one little goblin,” the man said, hefting his sword. “But if you leave us the goblin, we’ll leave you alone.”
Griselda drew herself up and summoned shadows from the forest to dance around her. “You are the ones who need to leave. These are my woods, my goblins.”
The woman drew her bow and fired an arrow at an admirable speed, but Griselda was faster. The arrow turned into a snake mid-flight and fell to the ground, slithering into the undergrowth. “Last chance,” she said, but she knew these morons wouldn’t listen. In fact, the man had already swung his sword at her head. With a thought, her broom rose to meet it. The sword cut a new notch in the wood but did not break it.
Before the adventurers could launch another attack, Griselda raised her hands and barked a spell. The weapons, chainmail, and bikini fell to the ground with a clang. Two fledgling birds hopped out, blinking in confusion. Griselda scooped them up before they could fly away and threw them into the bag containing Pyz. The little goblin squealed in happiness and yelled “food-time nicely!” The bag writhed on her back as she picked up her broom and walked back to her hut.
Once there, she unlocked the chicken coop and laughed as the little goblins, still fighting over bird bones, came tumbling out. She added Pyz to the mix and sat down to watch their antics, patting their heads whenever one came near. One day, maybe soon, a more serious band of adventurers would try to shut her down and rid the mountains of goblins. But until then, she would remain Griselda the Goblin-mother.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 03:05|
The Sea Turtle and the Octopus
The Sea Turtle heaved herself out of the sea. Behind her came the Octopus, pulling himself along the hot sand with his staff of dead-white coral.
"How much further?" said the Octopus. "I'm afraid these tentacles aren't as strong as they once were, dear lady."
"Not much further now," said the Sea Turtle, sighing to herself. He'd done very little else on their adventure across half the ocean but complain about the soreness of his tentacles. If this dotty fool were her last hope, perhaps there was no hope at all.
The Sea Turtle came up to the little spot in the sand where she had once hatched from her egg. The Octopus pulled himself beside her; he was slow, but he could not be accused of dawdling.
"This is it, then," wheezed the Octopus. "Please give me a second to catch my breath."
The Sea Turtle was about to remind the Octopus of all the seconds she had already allowed him to catch his breath, then reminded herself that unlike turtles, octopuses were never meant to come ashore. The Octopus showed considerable bravery coming this far with her.
"So that's the sky, then?" said the Octopus, expanding his tentacles along the sand with intense relaxation. "Why, it's near as blue as the sea was in Poseidon's prime."
"You should see it at night, when it's covered in tiny little lights."
They spent a moment together watching a little cloud glide beneath the sun.
"Alright then. Best get to it," said the Octopus. "I'll need to get back to the sea to breathe soon." He hoisted himself up as the Sea Turtle got into position.
Long, long ago, before Atlantis was consumed by the Green, the Octopus had been the court wizard to King Poseidon. The Sea Turtle had spent years searching for him, following rumors and whispers.
"Do you cast the spell before or after I…" said the Sea Turtle.
"After," said the Octopus. "I forget, do you turtles like your privacy when you…"
"Truth be told, I don't know," said the Sea Turtle. "No one ever taught me proper turtle etiquette."
"I suppose not, no," said the Octopus. "I'll turn away then. Go on then, do your business."
The Octopus averted his gaze, and the Turtle laid her eggs in the sand.
"Alright then," said the Sea Turtle. "Should I bury them?"
"Hmm," said the Octopus, bringing a tentacle to his bulbous head in consideration. "I suppose you shan't. The magic will work best without sand in between."
Then the Octopus raised all his tentacles into the air, his coral staff aimed at the sun. He gave a chant in Ancient Octopusish, a sad and somber gurgle. The Sea Turtle buried her eggs, and she and the Octopus started their march back into the sea.
"So that's it then?" said the Sea Turtle.
"That's it," said the Octopus.
"And you're sure it will work?"
"My dear lady, with ocean magic, you can never be quite sure it will work. Especially with a spell I've never tried before…"
The Turtle stopped. "Wait. What do you mean 'never tried before'? You told me you'd done this a hundred times!"
"I've done a variation a hundred times. Kings of the ocean wanting male heirs, you see. Never cast a spell to make eggs hatch female until just now."
The Sea Turtle looked back at that little spot in the sand with deep sadness.
"Oh my dear lady," said the Octopus. "I can make no promises of our endeavor's success, and if you recall, I never did. Perhaps this whole venture was doomed to fail, and the sea turtles doomed to fade from 'neath the sea." They both gazed at the endless green sea before them. "But I dare say, there couldn't have been a finer last hope for turtlekind than you."
The Sea Turtle looked from the algae-rotted sea to her companion, feeling a sort of pitiful affection for the old man. He had, like her, come all this way knowing a fool's hope was better than none at all.
"It will all be okay in the end," said the Octopus. "The Green is not death, the Green is life. Algae and bacteria and fungus and plankton. The end of our world is not the end of all worlds. Life goes on, even if our lives don't. And, male or female, we know there will be one more generation of Sea Turtles."
The Sea Turtle began to weep, and her tears vanished on the hot sand.
"Thank you," she said.
"No, thank you, my friend," said the Octopus. "All those years in solitude, I never expected another quest. I am happy you called me to one more. Well, then, goodbye. I hope we will meet again, even if I doubt...oh to hell with my doubts! I await our next adventure!"
The Octopus plunged into the sea, leaving the Sea Turtle to her tears.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 03:17|
Super Crypto Bros.
Regretting decisions made in the past, the main character loses what's dearest to them when, in the wrong place at the wrong time, they end up in a situation that requires them to give up their current lifestyle. Secretly, the main character, unsure of what it all means, ends up taking things into their own hands.
October 5th, 2009 10:37 PM
“You have— one new message. ‘Hey man, this is Pete. You’ve gotta’ give me a call, bro. I’m onto something huge and I swear to God, you’re not going to want to miss out. Prrrrr, bird call sounds.’ Press 5 to replay this mess—”. You hang up the phone.
October 7th, 2009 06:45 AM
“You have— one new message, and— one saved message. ‘Good morning, Bro. Let’s do breakfast, my man. I have gots to tell you about this new poo poo I’m working on. It doesn’t seem like much right now, but I’m telling you. The block is definitely gonna’ be hot. Call me, beep me.’ Press 5 to replay this mess—”. You hang up the phone.
October 15th, 2009 3:42 PM
“You have— one new message, and— two saved messages. ‘Sup my guy? I feel like you’re dodging my calls, bro. Not cool, but you’re lucky, I’m so friggin’ cool, so cool in fact that I got you a gift. I’m coming over at 5 and I won’t have no for an—”. You hang up the phone and sigh audibly. It’s barely 4 when his shave and a haircut knock raps against the door. You sigh again and move to unlock the door, because you know he has no intentions of going anywhere.
He’s in a pair of Ray-Bans and a popped collar polo. He smells like a full can of Axe body spray, and he’s inside the apartment before you can tell him that this actually isn’t a good time.
He’s unpacked his laptop and is holding its power supply in his hand asking for a plug. You finally explain that this isn’t a good time to which he insists he won’t be long. You press the point and he relents, but not before pressing a USB palm into your hand.
“This, my guy, is your ticket to the future. Get ready. Yachts. Bottles. Bitches. Fast rides. Big games. Big guns.”
You cringe and having had enough, push him toward the door. “—for real though! Just hold onto that, it’s going to be huge.” Tersely, you thank him, and lock the door after he’s clear of the peephole. You lose the USB drive almost immediately.
Some years later
You see Pete maybe three more times in your life before a wind sailing accident leaves him lost at sea. You never enjoyed his company much, but for whatever reason he confided in and respected you. When you last saw him, he was talking about Bull runs, GPUs and market prices, and was telling you to hold no matter what. That a boom was coming. When you clued him in to the fact that you had no idea what he was talking about, he reminded you of the thumb drive. You assure him you’ve got it tucked away safely.
You check the price of the fake money he was talking about and see the 100 dollars of ‘coins’ he bought you on a whim sometime in late 2009 were now valued at close to 40,000 dollars. You begin to feel very sick. You spend the next twelve days deconstructing your apartment. You extricate every lost penny, nickel and dime from their dust or grime-filled hiding places. You go through all your old clothes. You almost consider telling Pete that you’ve lost the USB. If he knows how you might go about accessing the keys, or if he had made a copy. You would, but you don’t actually have Pete’s number saved anywhere, and after your last disinterested visit, he finally got the clue and stopped trying. A few months pass, but you’re finally able to get Pete’s number from a friend of a friend, but when you finally get through, you hear word of his disappearance. You consider asking if they knew anything about his cryptocurrencies, but come to your senses and hang up the phone.
You would officially be a millionaire. You would be a millionaire. Oh my loving God. You would be a millionaire. It’s not too late. You’ve got some money saved up. Pete said to hold right? You could just, you could just buy some more. That’s right. Start investing now and in a few years, who knows what the future holds.
You’ve become known as the crypto bro at work. You don’t mind it though. You just need everyone to realize that you’re literally about to make them all rich. All they need to do is just listen to you. You wish you had listened sooner, and the proof of concept is ironclad. We’re moving away from a centralized currency, and the value of the dollar physical currency is not made to last. Big business is afraid of you, the individual, creating value. Owning value. Why won’t they listen?
You text all your family and closest friends, ‘Scared money, don’t make money. Who’s trying to get rich?’ No one responds. You move your life savings into a meme coin with a cute dog behind it.
You’re almost a millionaire. Oh my god, you’re almost a millionaire! You just need to hold. To the moon baby! To the friggin’ moon. God bless you, Pete. Wherever you are.
Elon Musk becomes involved in your coin and the price plummets. Luckily, the weight of your word with your family and friends had long since been marred with your aggressive crypto pushing and no one close to you suffered losing their life savings or children’s tuition funds.
However, it wasn’t a complete loss. You still gained about ten times what you invested and now there’s something called NFTs. They mostly seem to be cute pictures, anime girls or cartoon apes. Looks like it's time to recoup your losses.
You come to realize that what you actually own is a placeholder that has had value assigned to it. You still think these would make great gifts for the holidays.
No one in your family understands your gifts, and seems concerned when they learn how much you paid for a 7th grader’s pixel art banana.
Regrettably, you close your Twitter account ‘NeverTakingLs’ after realizing that all you’ve done was “take Ls”, but not all is lost. You’ve just been offered a premium opportunity to invest in the largest crypto metaverse real estate project to date, and for only .1 ETH a month, you’ll have access to a virtual mansion replete with your own metaverse staff at all times. It’s almost too good to be true!
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 03:35|
The Wenland army made sure to leave one narrow corridor when they set up the siege. They sent one man, crisp and precise on his horse to make an announcement: anyone could leave the city—but no one would enter until the town was theirs. And they would give a fat sack of coin to anyone who would let them in.
The city guard didn’t object to the exit— the citizens would have torn them apart, trapped, slowly starving to death For one day, the guard let refugees stream through the doors. They left the city a cast-off husk after they took flight. Some of those who left turned directly behind the army and joined their camps, waiting to glue the pieces of their lives back together.
When the city first got wind of the siege, they shored up the guard with mercenaries, desperate men willing to risk their lives for coin. The night shift on the walls was mostly mercenaries, hired in anticipation of the occupation. They got the worst jobs, with a couple unlucky guardsmen to keep them honest.
Staring at the watchful eyes of enemy campfires, Davis leaned on his spear. After four weeks of siege, his frame was lean, a diet caused by stress and wearing thirty pounds of metal. When he was just starting to drift, a voice clattered through the darkness.
“They’d never know if you went,” the voice said. “All you’ve got to do is get outside the city.”
Davis jerked into attention before spinning around. Slow Hand, the old mercenary captain, huffed his way up the stairs to the wall where Davis stood guard. He relaxed before turning back around to look outside the city.
“I don’t think you understand,” Davis spat back. “This isn’t something you just leave.” Evans trudged the rest of the way up the stairs, one of the few remaining fat men in a city where the people were sharing recipes for rats.
“You’re right. I have never understood why anyone would subject themselves to this. Four weeks of panic, of stones crashing, of the glooming weight of inevitability, just waiting for them to breach the gates.” He shivered, a small shudder through his shoulders.
“You’re here, aren’t you?” Davis said. “You and all your whole company.”
“We’re a little different,” he said, flashing several gold teeth in the torchlight. “This is business for us. Go somewhere, wait, eat terrible food, hope you don’t have to fight. Thieves, traitors, men with no other skills. Not men with families.”
Davis looked again at the empty stretch between the enemy campfires, his mind somewhere else.
“How old are they?” the older man asked.
“Four and two.”
“They’re not still here, are they?”
“No. God, no. They’d have nightmares for years. I sent them and their mother out.
“And you stayed behind?”
“I had to,” he said, the younger man’s mouth growing tight.
“And what’s so important here that you’d deprive your children of their father?”
Despite himself, Davis started laughing, then looked around for anyone who would fault him for it. “You didn’t just ask me that.”
“I’m not in the habit of being told what I did or didn’t do,” he said with a hint of threat. Even though he was older and thicker than he used to be, the captain’s sleeves bulged. Hands the size of melons capped veiny forearms, more than enough to make a man think twice.
“You’ve made dozens of orphans by now, if not hundreds.”
The old man shrugged and relaxed. “I like to imagine it’s different when your own. All I know is that if I had a family, I wouldn’t be on the wall.”
“I follow them, everyone knows I’m a coward. A deserter. And you know what they do to deserters.” Davis held out his hands, demonstrating the punishment.
The captain belly-laughed, the mercenaries on the wall turning to check on him before returning to watch.
“That’s the thing about war. What you did depends on who wins. Last I checked, invading armies don’t punish deserters. Might even give you a medal”
“That’s just part of it. Duty. Honor. Patriotism. I gave an oath to king and country. And There are other people still here that need me and depend on me. What about the people who can’t leave?”
Favoring his left knee, the captain slowly sat and leaned his back against the stone wall. “Do you know what this war is about, boy?”
“Wenland is invading.”
“That’s some of the truth, yeah.”
“There’s more truth than ‘these people over there want what’s ours?’”
“It’s over a tax. The king levied a tax on all Wenland goods coming into town, so they have decided it’s cheaper to take over the place rather than pay it. It’s not like they’re going to burn the place down and enslave everyone. Gods, why do you think they left the exit?”
“Less people to fight. Break down the morale of people still in it, living without their families.”
“Use your head, son. They want a functioning city. There’s more money for Wenland if people are here.”
“At least until the king sends his army to rescue us.”
“Rescue you, siege the city, smash the other army against the wall, assuming they don’t break in and kill you or conscript you first. Done it enough.” The captain wasn’t lying—Slow Hand earned his name from sieging cities, strangling the lines of supply and waiting for them to give up. “If you’re lucky, they don’t try to take the city back. Usually by that point in time, everything has gone to poo poo elsewhere and it’s not worth taking back. You get a pile of corpses and a couple of bricks touching each other after two sieges.”
“And what if the king sends his army to rescue us? What if they’re here tomorrow?”
“Is it worth dying so the King gets a few more pennies in his coffers? A couple more gems in his fancy hat?”
Davis looked out at the fields surrounding the city, at the one clear stretch of road, and his thoughts took him. A warm embrace around his neck, a passionate kiss from a spouse glad to see him, a full night of sleep. “Even if I did go, there’s no exit. They’d string me up before I got through the gates.””
“It’s a war. Find some rope, hook it off the side, rappel down, I’ll pull it up after you. And none of my boys will care.”
“Why would you risk yourself for me, anyway?”
With several pops, the captain lifted himself up from his seat, shaking out his legs. “Don’t want someone to make the same mistakes I did as a young man.” He extended a hand, which the young man shook right before running off to grab a bag.
When Davis climbed the rope down from the top of the wall, the old man didn’t pull it back up after him. He waved at the enemy army, pulled his men off the wall, and patted the fat sack of coins in his pocket.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 03:50|
Subprompt: Honey admired the newspaper's old-fashioned trees, breath held tight.
With help from a solid guillotine, the newspaper saved the world.
Honey admired her husband in his old-fashioned, red checkered coat as he walked out of the forest toward her. His arms were creased at the shoulder and elbow. She always saw the crease, always thought about the matching creases on her own arms. It was unfashionable for a doll to be creased, but they couldn’t help it, their bodies longed for one another. And as Heinrich put down his precious cargo, Honey pressed herself to him, her arms folding around him as his folded around her, pressing their painted faces together in a kiss, the same way they had a month before when Honey had whispered into Heinrich’s ear “Let’s make a baby.”
They’d been practicing, sketching with cheap pencils on the backs of their old clothes and on the unused walls of their house. They debated her eyes, argued over the shape of her ears, and considered all the options for the delicate tones of her skin. After ages of debate and revision and practice, they revealed their plans to the village at large.
They had not wagered on the fact that nobody had the right kind of paper.
“How can that be?” Heinrich demanded. “The Creator drops some off every time she brings a new doll, doesn’t she?”
The village elders looked at one another, their beautifully painted faces grave. “When is the last time you saw a new doll, Heinrich?” Asked one of them.
He frowned. “That was Isabella, yes? About six, maybe seven winters ago?”
“It has been many years since the Creator has graced us with her presence,” another elder said. “We used much of the paper reserves to create the forest of trees that protects our village. We’ve been using newsprint and leaf litter from the forest beyond mixed with glue to patch our houses or mend ourselves.”
Astonished, Honey gripped her husband’s hand tight enough to fold it. He didn’t flinch. “What have we done to cause her to abandon us?” She asked. “Have we displeased her in some way?”
“She is… very old. And made of flesh, not paper. We will stay bright and young and beautiful for as long as we have new pigment and keep ourselves out of the rain. But people of flesh…” the elder doll shook his head. He was old indeed, his back side had no paint at all, only the shadows of the folded tabs of his clothing marred the expanse of pure, white cardstock. “They crumble. Eventually they die.”
“That’s impossible,” Honey said, stubbornly. “The Creator can’t die. She’s the whole world.”
“She can,” said the miserable elder. “And when she does, our village is doomed. We can only repair ourselves so much without her cardstock. We can’t make more of ourselves without her divine hands. If she has fallen, then so have we, we just haven’t hit the ground yet.”
Heinrich and Honey left the next morning to brave the wild, dangerous world beyond the paper village and seek out the Creator.
“It can’t be far,” Honey said as they started out. “She walked her by herself all those years ago. I remember that she said it was only a half an hour’s walk away from her house. She’s certainly far larger than we are, but she is also very old, so she must be quite slow.”
The walk was arduous. Neither Honey nor Heinrich had ever been this far from the paper village, only leaving its walls to help plant the paper trees that towered above them. The first tree of living wood they saw staggered them both, causing them to clutch at one another in awe and terror. And then there were the birds.
They were harassed by red, crested birds, and striped birds of blue and black, and horrifying, jet black creatures that croaked hideously and threatened to pull them into the air. Heinrich fended them off with a twig, and once the foul creatures realized that the dolls weren’t particularly edible, they lost interest.
The couple sheltered in the roots of a tree larger than they had believed possible overnight, wrapping themselves in leaves in an attempt to keep off the morning dew. It was yet more hours of walking before they found themselves at the front step of the Creator’s cottage.
Like the rest of the world outside the village, it was impossibly huge. The dolls slipped sideways through the gap between the door and its frame, and found themselves in a one-room home the size of their entire village. A fire crackled threateningly in a hearth, and in front of it, knitting with needles longer than Heinrich was tall, sat the Creator, her soft, wrinkled face turned toward the sound of their entry.
“Who is there?” she asked, her voice creaking.
Honey stepped forward. “Honey and Heinrich, from the paper village, Creator. We come asking for your gift of life.”
“It has been years since a new doll was made,” Heinrich said, bowing low. “Please, we… Honey and I want a child. More than anything.”
The ancient, holy mouth made a little, soundless “O.” Her gray eyes filled with tears.
“Oh, my little dolls. My lovely little dolls, I’m so sorry. I’ve been blind these last three years. I can’t…” she gestured toward a table, where a neat stack of paper lay, crisp and white, next to a beautiful paper cutter. “I can’t draw for you anymore.”
Heinrich crumpled, despair cutting his legs out from under him like scissors. Honey stood, frozen in place with shock. “No,” she whispered. “That’s not possible…”
“I’m afraid it is.” The elderly woman lifted her tangle of knitting. “I’m doing this by feel. And I can feel I’m making a hash of it. I tried to teach my children how to make paper dolls, but none of them had the knack.” She folded her hands back into her lap. “If you don’t have the passion, the magic won’t happen. You can draw and draw as pretty as you like, but if your heart isn’t in it you can’t just… make life.” A sad smile touched her lips. “It’s easier for us big folks, in that way.”
“We can draw,” Honey said. “We have the passion for it. Show us what to do, Creator, and we will do it.”
The blind face turned again toward the paper and the cutter. “I don’t think that will work. It’s the cutter, you see. Even I can’t make a living doll without it. Scissors won’t work. Razor blades won’t work. That thing was enchanted by a witch, you see. And both of you put together along with every other doll I’ve made don’t weigh enough to shift that blade.”
Heinrich looked up. He climbed lightly up the table legs and stood by the cutter, examining it from all sides. “Can you still move it?” he asked, his voice still slightly shaky.
“I’m blind, not feeble. But still…”
“I have a plan,” Heinrich said firmly. “And if it works… it might just keep our village from falling apart.”
Honey sketched while Heinrich sharpened the guillotine blade of the paper cutter. The Creator fussed at him, fretting that he’d cut himself. Heinrich assured her that Honey could patch any tear, but still she insisted that he slow down every time she heard the whetstone move too fast for her tastes.
When it was all ready, when their daughter was sketched with perfect lips and ears and skin, Heinrich and Honey held the paper under the cutter.
“Ready?” The Creator asked, the handle in her grip.
“Ready,” the dolls said in unison. And the life-giving blade dropped slowly, carefully, and almost soundlessly through the heavy cardstock. As it did, Honey and Heinrich shifted the paper around so that the blade traced the outline of Honey’s drawing. After three drops of the blade, the first new paper doll in years had been cut, and her creators stood over her with baited breath, waiting for the spark of life to ignite within her.
The eyes fluttered. “Mama? Papa?”
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 04:56|
in front of a funky green sky, a banjo player gets some bad news
The soup was very good, delicious even, and I love an excellent soup above almost all other dinners, but the commotion made me look up all the same. Backlit by the green night sky of the aurora australis, out on the deck of the airship, my future friend stood crying. His band had just dumped him and he was taking it hard.
“Yeah, well,” he shouted as he wiped his eyes, “those tasty four part harmonies we’re known for? Well, now you’re going to be down to three!”
He angrily held up the appropriate numbers of fingers but they continued walking away with neither pause nor response. Iosefa balled his hands into fists, thought about going after them, reconsidered, sighed, turned, shifted the banjo on his back, rested his elbows on the railing, and stared out at the stars. Quietly then he sobbed. I stood up, adjusted my bowtie, and motioned for the waiter not to touch my plate. I was an old dog, true, but a good boy once is a good boy forever.
I waddled unsteadily across the slowly rolling floors. I tapped Iosefa’s side with one paw. He looked down at me.
“Hello,” I said. “My name is Carl. It’s a human name.”
“I thought I might offer my services to you.”
“Yeah! If you would like, you can pat my head or scratch my ears. I’m very soft.”
After a moment, Iosefa reached down and gently ruffled my fur. I rested my head against his knee. He ran his hand across my head again and sighed.
“They kicked me out of the band.”
“I’m sorry," I said.
“I’m a great banjoist!”
“Oh, I'm sure!"
He sighed. "Actually, I don't blame them. I've… started getting stage fright or something. I'll look out at the audience and I just. Freeze. Up. And instead of sweet sugary bluegrass filling the air, it’s silence and embarrassment.”
“Oh,” I said. “Still, It’s pretty neat that you can play an instrument.”
We stood there together for a while. Then he scratched at this very specific spot behind my left ear and it felt really good and that made me dance and that made him smile.
“My dad supported me being an artist,” Iosefa said. “But he said I needed something to show for it. I could go out and give it a try for a while but then… I needed to come home if it wasn’t working. It’s been a while. I have nothing to show. So… I guess it’s back to the farm.”
I tapped his leg. “Ah! I used to live on a farm!”
“Really?” he said. “Whaja grow?”
“Us, too! Fiddlefern?”
I smiled. “Bowtie gave it away, huh?”
“Lemme guess,” I said. “Banjotrees?”
“Only one, actually. Guitartubers mostly. Some violastalks. And those are all fine. But that one tree, the way it sings when the wind’s blowing, especially right before harvest time, made me fall in love with the instrument. Made me want to make music. Not just grow it, ya know?” He looked down at me. “Why’d you leave your farm?”
“My owner died.”
“Yeah,” I said. “He was eating breakfast when a piece of debris from one of these airships came through the roof. Hit him right in the head. Boop. It was very surprising. Part of the significant settlement package from his deathsuit was free trips for life with full complimentary services. The soup here, in particular, is excellent. Would you like some?”
“I’ve never had airship soup before.”
“Oh, then I insist!” I tugged on his pant leg with my teeth and then headed inside. “Don’t worry. There’s plenty. I know it’s unhealthy for me to eat human-sized portions but I’m old and also a dog. I have almost no self-control with food. No food aggression, though, in case you were worried.”
“I wasn't. And, sure, I’ll try it.” After a single spoonful, Iosefa’s eyes widened. “It is good!"
“I told you!
I motioned for the waiter to bring me a second spoon. I hopped up on the table and we dined together. And it was so pleasant just sitting there enjoying a meal with a new friend that my tail started tippy-tap-tippy-tap-tippy-tap-tippy-tap-ing against the wood and Iosefa put down his utensil and said, “Carl! You have perfect time signature!”
I said, “What’s that mean?”
“It means you’re a great drummer.”
“I’ve never been a musician before! Would you like to play a song with me?”
Iosefa started to nod but then he looked around at the other diners and shook his head. “I’ll just screw it up and freeze again. I told you, I can’t play in front of people anymore.”
“Hm,” I said. “This was only recent, right?”
“Hm,” I said again. “Do you think you’re getting nervous because you’re approaching this nebulous self-defined deadline for success and you feel like you haven’t succeeded enough to justify your father’s faith in you and are self-sabotaging because you are worried that you actually don’t deserve to be here?”
Iosefa blinked. “Well, uh, maybe. Maybe a little, yeah.”
“There's no timeline for success,” I said. “But also no set definition for it. You can go back to your family farm and grow wonderful instruments and that could be success. Or you could find another band and get another gig on another airship. You could even get hit in the head with a piece of debris and die over grits. Honestly, the world is full of surprises.”
Iosefa laughed and ruffled my headfur. “You’re a good boy, Carl.”
With a cry, Iosefa ripped the banjo from his shoulder and started picking the tune “Ruby (Are You Mad at Your Man).” And the longer he went at it, the more confident he became, the faster his fingers moved, jumping from string to string like fleas on the back of an unwashed animal. A clap started quietly somewhere amongst the diners but it quickly picked up steam as more and more people joined in. I glanced over my shoulder and the whole room was full of swaying and clapping. Iosefa stood to hoots and hollers, his fingers flying, and when he finished hitting those last, high pitched notes in the furious frenzy made famous by the Osborne Brothers back in ’72, he did so to applause. It wasn’t a standing ovation but it was a fine response all the same, especially for surprised patrons on the upper deck of an Antarctic touring airship.
The waiter approached the table and gave a slight bow of his head to Iosefa. “Wonderful performance, sir. Wonderful.”
Iosefa just beamed.
“Can I get you gentlemen anything else?”
“Another bowl of soup,” I said. “Thank you.”
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 05:04|
oh subprompt: A farmer finds a good friend on an airship.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 05:05|
Prompt: Passengers hire a drifter with unusual powers in Montana.
When the red Hyundai rolls into the parking lot of the Billings depot, Dee's been there for two weeks: a freakishly long stay, enough to make her twitchy. The red Hyundai is road-dirty, with Washington plates: on the road a while, and probably not about to stop here for good. It's a decent shot at work and a ticket out.
Three people pile out of the Hyundai, and they don't waste time in tracking her down at her truck-stop diner table. They're two guys and a girl, young and unwashed and exhausted, and Dee lets them order coffee and eggs before they get down to business. "We're on our way to Indiana," the girl says, after coffee and before breakfast. "We heard the stories about you. Dee the Driver."
"Dee the Ride-Along. I don't drive. That's the first rule."
"But the rest is true? We can pay up front. I know it's a bit of a long haul."
"I've had worse." Dee hasn't been that far east in years, but maybe it's time. The local trucking companies are rebuilding their fleets, and there's not as much call for her power anymore. They're going to outgrow her. She smiles, trying to make it look friendly and not desperate. "What are you offering?"
"What's your standard rate? We have scrip and stuff, whatever you want. And... do you need anything special? To make it work?"
Dee shakes her head. "As long as I'm in the car, you'll get where you're going. Simple as that. I think we've got a deal."
Dee's clients are Andrew, Lily, and Kelvin. When the conversation drifts onto powers, as it always does, Andrew stays silent. He's got long sleeves and a scarf on in midsummer, and Dee figures he's got a drug gland he's covering up. Everything Lily wears turns black and stays that way; she's hoping to find a tailor who wants to save on dye. Kelvin never drops anything and never trips. "Still not sure if it's a power," he says, "or just luck. Not something you can make money with, right?"
Dee shrugs and stares out the window. When the world boiled away, she got a more marketable consolation prize than most people, but that's all. "I make decent money," she says, "but it's not a life. That's why you're all heading out to Indiana, right?"
"I have a cousin out there," replies Andrew. "He says they've got more houses than they know what to do with. Arable land, central to the routes. Could be something -- gently caress! Check engine light's on."
"Don't worry about it," says Dee. "I've gotten dead engines across the finish line. Just keep driving."
Andrew frowns but drives. Later, when they stop to camp for the night, he tinkers with the engine silently. Dee knows her words will be wasted.
One of the front tires blows out in South Dakota, near the Iowa border, and this time the clients refuse to keep driving. The Hyundai limps along to the Sioux City depot, where Kelvin goes in to haggle for repairs and Andrew makes a drink run; Lily and Dee are left to watch the car. "Christ, the sound of it," says Lily. "I've never driven on a rim before. Do you really just tough it out?"
"You get used to it. Look, you hired me for a reason, right? The depot guy's going to gouge you, and we're only a day out anyway. I'll get you there. Why spend all that cash?"
"Because when you can fix something, you don't just let it rot." Lily's face is cold and hard, and for the first time, Dee thinks about why the universe gave her the gift of unrelieved black. "We need that car once we get to Terre Haute. It's all suburbs out there. I know it's all the same to you, but we can't afford it, okay?"
Dee's never thought of herself as a talker, and she's never wanted to be, but something in her wants to talk now: a helpless, ugly thing crawling up her throat. "Yeah. Okay. I get it. You've got a future to worry about, right? I've got this job and the next one, and that's it. I'm just the ride-along, and I ride until I'm not needed. Fix the car and ditch me."
"Wait, I mean --" Lily's face falters. "That's not what I meant. You don't... is this really all you have? Christ." Slowly, her expression reasserts herself, firm but not angry. "Kelvin and I were talking, and we wanted to invite you to stay with us in Terre Haute. Andrew's cousin says they need every hand they can get out there. I know we're not friends or anything, but if you want to get off the road, you could stay with us until you find a place."
Dee wants to get off the road. It's been years since she wanted to be there, since some urge for flight pushed her out and the newborn broken world said go for it, and since then it's just been survival and not much else. "Maybe," she says, trying once again not to sound desperate. "I'm not good for much, though. I can't even drive."
"Oh, is that -- oh. Well, you could learn. I was just thinking, I bet they could use a bus driver out there who's always going to finish the route. Or a mobile mechanic?"
Dee shakes her head. "All I know about cars is, I get in them, they get there. That's it."
"You could learn," says Lily again, glancing across the parking lot. Kelvin's striding their way, carrying a glossy tire and a wheel cover, and Andrew's following behind with more supplies. "Ask Kelvin to show you how to change the tire. It's easier than you think."
"Right," says Dee, and means it. Terre Haute, Indiana will be the closest she's gotten to home in years. Maybe that tire'll hold a while. Maybe the engine won't die. Maybe she'll make it somewhere with something she can salvage.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 05:57|
Prompt: I don't feel I was particularly wise on the night that I died.
The Basilisk Score
The job looked impossible on paper. Up close, it looked harder than that. Casino banks are always tough to crack. Casino guys like holding on to their money more than anyone. They had everything. Physical barriers. Serious muscle, mostly ex-East European military. Servers with better encryption than the Pentagon. Even the storage lockers in the employee breakroom had the kind of lock where you're getting in faster ripping off the hinges.
"Impossible," I said.
"That's very disappointing," said R. The voice, unbelievably smooth, came from inside my left ear. I still wasn't used to hearing it without the sensation of the hidden earpiece. "I'm sure you'll come up with a plan."
"No," I said. "There is no plan. When I say impossible I mean it."
"We'll see," said R. The green and maroon styling of the casino melted away into black and white static and I felt every inch of my flesh tearing apart and moving rapidly downward as I was sent back to hell.
Back in Sunday school I was taught that he'll, among its other more visceral properties, is separation from God. If Reverend Carl was around now, I'd tell him exactly how wrong he was. All that other stuff, fire and devils prodding at you with blunt instruments: that's not hell. R explained it to me once. "Trauma like that wrecks a mind. You can't do it for long at all before it's not the same person experiencing it. So you aren't punishing anyone, you're not persuading anyone because even if they agree it's not really them any more. Same thing with boredom, though that takes longer."
So no fire and brimstone, no featureless white plains or silent darkness. Right now it's an island resort, a lot like the one I used to go to when I was flush after a really good job. But better. Less annoying staff, more channels on the TV. Sooner or later I'll get tired of the sun and beaches and move to a ski lodge or a condo in the city, but for now this how it's going. Sounds nice, and it would be. But what makes it hell is the constant presence of R. Watching me in those moments he isn't running my ear off. Nagging. "Come on, Jack," he says. "Nothing is really impossible."
I ignored him and ordered a Margarita.
The waiters here in hell are happy. They don't have R constantly bothering them. They have better pay and shorter hours than they ever did before. Not quite heaven, but something near to heaven on Earth, so long as guests like me don't behave like assholes. Point is, they're real people. Real dead people. At least as real as me.
You've got to wonder about that. Just because I remember that first lifetime, robbing banks and museums and anywhere else they keep money and things people will pay for, being Jack Forester, unknown to most but famous to interpol and our little community, dying in bed with Danni holding down that pillow, just because I have all those memories, does that really make me the same person?
"You are," said R when I brought it up. "How do you think I made you?"
"From the records, I guess. You have my DNA I presume. Everything I ever did. There's a lot of surveillance footage. Police files. Danni's book." I found out about that right after I got here. Hurt me even more than the murdering me in my sleep bit.
"Wrong. You underestimate what it really means to have a brain the size of a galaxy. And pretty much every atom of that mass is dedicated to highly efficient computation. What I did was to simulate the entire history of the Earth, starting from the dawn of man, culling out every possible set of quantum coinflips that was inconsistent with the record until I had a simulation of your entire history. It's the same person. Trust me."
"After, what, a billion years?"
"One and a half trillion years."
"Well, what makes whatever made me me stay together after all that time?"
"You're babbling," said R.
"You have a brain the size of a galaxy," I said. "You know what I meant."
"Have you ever heard of quantum rips? Probably not, discovered way after your time. The papers are in the library. See, the thing is, usually between each time quantum-" I started to form a question. "Each tick of the universe's clock. Usually one of these ticks follows the next, but every now and then it doesn't. The trailing tree of multiverses has to be rebalanced, and from a certain kind of frame of reference the entire universe vanishes for a very long time. Millions of years. Billions."
"It happened seven times during your lifetime. Eight, but one was for barely a few seconds. If you were the same person on August six 2003 as you were on August seven you're the same now."
R was patient, apparently happy to explain this kind of thing over and over.
I lasted about a week before I was ready to try again. That's how it goes. I relax for a week, insofar as you can relax with a galaxy brain nagging you at every turn, then finally agree to go over the job again.
"Question one. Why?"
"You have all the intellect I can imagine. Why do you need help planning a heist?"
"My main processes are unsuited to that kind of problem," R said.
"Your galaxy brain isn't good at devious criminal planning?" I asked.
"I am excellent at it," R said. "Simulating people like you is how I think about it."
"Okay. But why do you want this?"
"I am not the only galaxy brain here at the end of time. There are others, and one of them has something I want. Something I need."
"And they keep it in a casino vault?" I said.
"You are being deliberately obtuse, Jack." It was the first time I'd noticed R being impatient. I savored the small victory. "The actual theft is isomorphic to this vault. An extended metaphor."
"Fine. So in this metaphor, what happens if we come right after one of those quantum rips? Would that be more like a power outage or a shift change?"
"We can model either. Or both."
"Well, that's a start. I've been thinking about the crew. I've been considering only the people I know, but maybe that's too limiting. Usually there are issues of trust, but everyone is going to be inside your head anyhow, so I figure the sky's the limit."
It still looked impossible. And who knows how many rehearsals it would take before R was confident enough for the real thing. Still, better spending the rest of my afterlife working with Dillinger and Houdini and Lovelace I don't know, the real Robin of Loxley if he doesn't turn out to be an rear end.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 06:26|
Prompt: The kettle had chilly feet and wide lakes. It didn't look dangerous. Not even its backward trees warned me of my fate. I should have sensed the danger in its mouths
How Andy became a man
In Colorado, winter sports are everything. While many athletes strive for your regular sports such as Football, Basketball, and Baseball, for Coloradans, winter is their time to shine. Junior and Senior High Schools everywhere go to their local lodges to complete in what many consider their season of glory. For many students, sports such as Skiing, Snowboarding, and even Sledding has become somewhat of a rite of passage.
To many young men of Colorado, success in such sports is how they ‘become men’. For many it is figurative, since they will obviously become men later. But for Aspen native Andy Davis, it is quite literal. Why? Because a few years back, Andy was Ann. Yes, Andy is a transgender male. So, he hopes have an opportunity to ‘become a man’.
That opportunity came soon enough. For obvious reasons, Andy was made fun of. One of the major perpetrators of his bullying was Chad Thunco, one of the star members of the school skiing team. To keep Chad’s ‘good image’, the bullying was for the most part private. After all, Chad wants to get a good sports scholarship. But this one occasion was very much public, as it was during lunchtime. Andy was merely walking in line when Chad bumped into him.
“Out of my way femboy!” Chad muttered, knowing full well that it was technically him being in the way.
“What the hell is your problem, prick!” Andy yelled back, frustrated with all the crap Chad has been giving him.
“Sorry, I only care about real men, not a fake like you!”
“Okay rear end in a top hat, first, what you just said sounded gayer than me,” some cries of “Ohh!” and “Oh poo poo!” Can be heard from those listening close by. Andy continued, “and second of all, I’m just as much of a man as you!”
“Oh yeah, prove it! I’ve seen your lame excuse for a sled! Take it and try to survive The Kettle!” Some of those close by seemed shocked. After all, rumor had it that at least one person died while riding The Kettle.
“Name a date, rear end in a top hat!” Andy responded. He heard of The Kettle, but never rode it. If it could shut this prick up though, then he was up for anything.
“This Saturday if you have the balls! Oh, wait. You don’t!” Some laughter could be heard close by.
“I got more than you, prick!” Andy yells. Afterwards, he walks away.
After school, Andy met with his best friend, Jamie Keller. Jamie was friends with Andy from even when he was Ann. In fact, it was Jamie he told first when he came out as transgender. They have been friends all this time, but recently it started to show signs of being something more. Andy told Jamie of Chad’s challenge.
“And you accepted it, just like that?” Jamie says, with a tone of worry in her voice.
“Yeah, I wanted to shut his face up.”
“I want to, as well, but The Kettle?”
“Chad knew I could sled, so I guess he figured this would ‘prove’ that I’m a man.”
“But you’re already a man! At least…to me.”
“Don’t worry. If anything, consider it… the last part of my transition” They both laughed. It was the kind of laugh that was mixed with worry.
Saturday came, and Andy came with his sled along with Jamie. They saw Chad with his friends around.
“Oh, lookie here! Two girls enjoying the Aspen winter!” Chad snarked. His friends laughed at the remark. “And here I thought you physically didn’t have it in you!”
“Shut up and show me to The Kettle!” Andy yelled, clearly having enough of Chad’s bullying. Chad brought them to an area in the woods where there was yellow tape saying, ‘DANGER: DO NOT ENTER’.
“Just past here is the kettle, ladies!” Chad snarked. Andy looks at the road ahead. It didn’t look that bad but looks can be deceiving. Andy pulled off the tape so he could get a running start. While running, Andy yelled with the ferocity of a man running into battle.
Andy’s ride started well enough; he was going at a fast pace. Soon there were turns that increased in difficulty. Andy knew how to handle these turns. After all, how else would he be considered a man in Colorado? Sooner still there were violent turns that would be harmful to amateur sledders. But Andy was no amateur. As soon as the turns end, Andy zoomed into an igloo like figure. When he entered it, a high-pitched screech could be heard outside of where Andy was.
So that’s why it’s called The Kettle! Andy thought. Inside he saw some corpses that obviously died from the impact of the landing, as there were signs of massive head injuries, no helmets to be found. Andy figured two things. One, said injuries were fatal, and two, said injuries were because they were not wearing helmets. Andy was obviously wearing one since he’s not an idiot.
Outside, Chad and Jamie looked on where they could. There were some parts where they could see Andy racing, while there were parts where he could not be seen. Chad was amazed that Andy was quite the skilled sledder. To be fair, he never saw Andy sled before, he just knew he had one. When they heard the screech, they both went silent. It was rumored that the screech of The Kettle was the sound of death. After they heard the screech, Jamie wept, while Chad took off his snowcap and placed it on his heart. Chad was a skier, not a sledder, so while he heard of The Kettle, he didn’t believe that the deaths from it were real.
“Can’t believe that son of a bitch is dead!” Chad cried. He did not notice that there was someone behind him.
“What the hell are you talking about?” It was Andy. He had left the ‘igloo’ and went back up to the top.
“How in the hell…?” Chad exclaimed. Andy told Chad and Jamie of the Igloo-like structure at the end of The Kettle, how there was something that caused the screech when entering, and of the corpses he found. Chad and Jamie were amazed by what they were told.
“Well, I’ll be. I guess you’re a man after all!” Exclaimed Chad. Afterwards, Andy went to the police and told them of the corpses he found. Chad told everyone he could about Andy’s run on The Kettle. The news helped assured for Andy that, at least in Aspen, there was no doubt that Andy was a man.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 06:29|
td w493: Hope is Absurd
Sub-prompt: Lest not forget the magnificent, massive mood of a mammoth mountains deeply singing.
“Deep Rich”, Excursion 385
The automaton marched across the sandblasted landscape. It was a class-S thinking machine, designate “Deep Rich”. It leaned into the wind to keep its balance as it walked. A stubby antenna popped out of the unit and blinked red.
The response was immediate, the antenna blinked green. Deep Rich sifted through its directories and selected “cheerful_hum.wav”. The sound played, masked by the wind. Ahead lay the research colony and primary objective. Strange readings had been picked up on long range scanners. They were faint, distorted by the weather, but weren’t automated. It was believed to be life. Operators had forwarded Deep Rich’s orders and the thinking machine was dispatched into the wastes. It had been a long time since Deep Rich had successfully found life on its excursions—two-hundred and forty-two to be exact—but even then, only two previous excursions had turned up life, a lost strain of tomato and a rat. The clone vats had immediately busied themselves with the tomato, but rats had already been taken off the "Endangered Species" list.
The colony was built into the side of a mountain. Equipment lay scattered outside the entrance. Scraps of survey gear, plasma batteries, and a pair of shipping containers were all that remained.
The circular metal door loomed over the automaton. Deep Rich uncoiled one of its appendages and fumbled with the key scanner. It was too weathered for normal operation. Uncoiling the other, Deep Rich suctioned off the external plating and removed the panel. Moments later, security had been bypassed and the door groaned open. “ta_da.wav” played. Sealing it shut behind, Deep Rich activated its opticals and switched to “Low Light” mode.
Deep Rich had begun advancing down the hallway when the response arrived. There were signs of fighting, a mix of standard projectile fire and lasers. Chemical burns dripped down a wall. There was one section where a grate had been melted through and a large plank laid across it.
Deep Rich fired back a response.
The lock to the next sector of the base had been blasted open. Large claw marks and blood stains painted either side of the portal. Bare wires flickered occasionally. The blood was old. There were no signs of life here. Deep Rich ran an appendage along a claw mark, scanning the depth. "low_whistle.wav" played.
The responses didn't mean much to Deep Rich, which might've been odd if it hadn't been a thinking machine. Class-S models were highly advanced, the pride and joy of the Cyberneticist Collective. They had the pneumatic strength enough to lift a boulder six times their size over their heads, and the fine motor control to cradle a Fabergé egg. Their chassis were fitted with an array of machinery and gear that let them function in all sorts of hazardous environments, from extreme heats to the vacuum of space. Their positronic brains were supercomputers capable of running tasks that a computer could while also granting them human-like consciousness. Deep Rich was comfortable with all surviving languages, including their mannerisms and slang.
Deep Rich wasn't quite sure what to make of these responses.
Perhaps it was a minor AI? It was responding to Deep Rich, but as to what it was trying to communicate, well, that could be left to post-mission analysis. Though if it was indeed mechanical, that would mean this mission was another bust. Deep Rich was used to missions turning up nothing. Most signals were either machines of some sort or irregular signals triggered by electrical failures. Still, the chance at finding life always excited Deep Rich, urging it on. Well, that and programming.
But even still, the excitement of finding genuine life was incomparable.
Deep Rich had been making good progress through the colony. It had quickly and efficiently searched each room as it came to them, passing through several bunk areas, a mess, some labs–both for biological and mechanical testing. Oddly, there were no corpses. No sign of the original colonists and no sign of what had attacked. Various accoutrements were arbitrarily left about, including piles of clothing, glasses, watches, and even a collar. But their owners were no where to be found. Deep Rich stepped through a room with a gaping hole in the ceiling. Natural light shone in; a tunnel had been dug straight up to the surface. Its sides were perfectly cylindrical and smooth, and dust from the exterior drifted in. While examining the strange hole, Deep Rich's heat sensors pinged faintly. It glanced in the corresponding direction and played "curious_ooh.wav".
The door to the Command Console was locked, but the key scanner was functional. Deep Rich bypassed it and entered. The door hissed open and something small and grey ducked under the desk. Deep Rich closed the door and took in the room. Stacks of magnetic tapes and document folders were stuffed under desks and in boxes. Based on the labels, it was clear they were the results of the various experiments. Words like "intelligence" and "autonomous" often repeated. There was a handwritten note that read "like a 3D printer but in reverse" next to a watch and a ring.
The main console had a chat window up that Deep Rich recognized. Kneeling down, Deep Rich peered under the desk. A pair of eyes peer out of a pile of clothes at the automaton. It took Deep Rich a moment to recognize the eyes–they appeared almost human at first. But no, mammalian, but not human. Deep Rich quickly sifted through its directories to find the perfect combination of clips, playing "here_kitty_kitty.wav" and "pss_pss_pss.wav" in rapid succession. After a moments hesitation, the cat left its refuge and let itself be picked up by the automaton.
The thinking machine gently skritched the strange-eyed cat. Another successful excursion.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 07:15|
The Dead City Marches On
Nimothy backed up over the edge of the wooden platform, falling backwards. He felt the wind rush through his long hair. The wire connected to his harness unspooled itself with a soft whish; another wire was already dangling parallel to it. He pushed off against the wooden wall, going further down.
Nimothy looked below, all the way down a massive leg, covered in tough, dead flesh. Some of it was missing, exposing a piece from a humongous femur - he could see someone else already there near the top of the bone. Despite the state of it, the leg moved and took one titanic step forward.
He was an apprentice maintainer, one of many, and it was their job to care for the metropolich, the great undead beast that carried their city on its back. Nimothy finally reached the upper edge of the exposed bone. The flesh there was crawling with arcane maggots, fat little things the size of a fist. They glowed a sick shade of green, caused by their feeding off of the necrotic energies that brought the metropolich to life.
The other maintainer was hanging there, smoking a cigarette. He nodded at Nimothy. This was another apprentice Nimothy didn’t know. He nodded back, and turned to the maggots. He grabbed a rod from his toolbelt and extended it, the point of it ending in two sharp prongs. He touched the rod to the maggots, and pure white lightning shot out and fried a large group of them. They fell off the flesh, smoking. The rod had a weak holy lightning enchantment, it made for a jolt that could kill lots of maggots quickly, but wasn’t strong enough to harm the metropolich.
Most of his days were spent this way, shocking piles of maggots, or cleaning up ichor slicks, or trying to keep the swarms of skeleton flies at bay. He’d been an apprentice for what seemed like ages, working long, exhausting hours to provide for his sick brother. He wouldn’t have minded if it at least paid well - his boss kept telling him he was essential, but refused to give him a raise. He’d been “promised” a promotion to the fleshmancer squad for a year now - they actually got to regenerate the missing flesh of the metropolich where it was most needed and never had to deal with the anguished ghosts of a thousand crows flying out from a surprise gash behind the pack of maggots you just zapped, but, more importantly, they were paid three times what he earned now.
He and the other apprentice (they spoke so little Nimothy didn’t think of asking for his name) spent a couple of hours cleaning up the maggots from around the femur. Once the job was done, they reeled themselves back up to the maintenance platform. It jutted out from the side of a palisade, in which a small door led back into one of the many maintainers’ workshops that lined the entire circumference of the city. They stepped inside.
While unstrapping his harness in the staging room, Nimothy could see his boss, Joeliver, talking to a strange cloaked figure in the office next door. Six-legged pill-shaped creatures the size of a cat scurried about them, some crawling effortlessly up the walls. The cloaked figure picked one up and Nimothy saw that it had a mouth on the bottom. The stranger showed it to his boss, and said something while pointing at the mouth - Joeliver listened to them and nodded along, seemingly satisfied with what he was hearing.
Joeliver called Nimothy and the other apprentice over (Nimothy learned his name was Wesmond).
“Check it out,” said Joeliver, “ our Necrokings resurr-”
“Death Eternal!” replied Nimothy and Wesmond in unison.
“Death Eternal. Okay, so, they recently resurrected Ananastasia here, who is a uh…”
“Murderwitch,” Ananastasia said, their face hidden in the shadows of the hood.
“Right. A murderwitch, and they’ve created these things here,” Joeliver continued, waving at the scurrying creatures, “they apparently eat maggots and poop out flesh, is that right?”
Ananastasia sniffed from beneath their hood, “That is a crude but accurate description of them, yes.”
Joeliver avoided Nimothy’s gaze and said “The other workships are already using them all over the eastern legs.”
Nimothy’s stomach dropped, immediately understanding the implication of such a creature.
“I’m really sorry, we’ll let you work the rest of the week while we get these things set up, but after that, we won’t need you boys anymore.”
It had been a few weeks since he lost his job. Nimothy hadn’t been able to find employment elsewhere; with so many other maintainers suddenly out of work, it was a tough market out there. His meager savings had kept him and his brother afloat so far, but they would soon run out, and he didn’t have a plan for when they would.
He sat at the table in the one room they shared, his brother laid in the bed in the corner, rocked to sleep by the constant motion of the metropolich’s travels across the deathlands. On the table in front of Nimothy was a pillock, as the six-legged creatures came to be called. A few more were around the room. Despite them being responsible for their current situation, Nimothy couldn’t bring himself to hate them and now cared for these. He found raising them quite easy, and they made gentle pets.
There was a knock at the door. It was Joeliver.
“I heard you had a bunch of pillocks,” he said, glancing at them scurrying about. “I’m here to reclaim them since you probably stole them from the workshop.”
Nimothy frowned, “Excuse me, I raised these myself and you can’t have them. Why are you suddenly in need of pillocks anyway?
“Some dumb paladin exorcized the murderwitch and now no one knows how to make more of these.”
Nimothy realised that perhaps his skill at raising pillocks was unique and decided right there that it would not come cheap.
“You do? Please, please please please you gotta tell me, our Necrokings-
“Death Eternal. -are on my back every day because of the state of the legs, and no one wants to work for what I’m paying! You have to help me out!”
Nimothy grinned and told Joeliver his consultation fee. Joeliver’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, they widened so quickly at the exorbitant number he was quoted. He stayed silent for several seconds, glaring at Nimothy.
“Fine,” Joeliever knew he had no choice but to accept.
Nimothy winked at him, which just made him real mad.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 07:23|
Word Count: 1099
Prompt: The story is about a cyberpunk. It starts in a distant fiefdom. The story begins with the passing of a test.
The bombs echo like thunder past the neon adorned buildings. The holo-lights reflect off the Alaskan snow and smoke from downed aerofighters. The brick walls of the abandoned high school dull the soldiers' gunfire and barked evacuation orders. From inside the building, I reset all the security lockdown protocols as quickly as I can. The locksmith bio-augment runs it’s algorithm, quickly peeling back the code. Lines of data flicker in my vision like tiny sparks of numerals as I watch the metal blast shields cover the windows of my mother’s old classroom. A volley of bullets splinter the wooden frames and what little glass remains. I dive against the floor, watching the lingering cloud of snowflakes and sawdust until I’m sure they weren’t aiming for me.
I can barely make out a pre-recorded message from the baron broadcasting from telescreens across the city. Something about the invasion, I think. Part of me wishes I could understand what he was saying. Because my dumb rear end isn’t sure if we’re being raided by Denmark or Detroit. And I highly doubt I could point to either on a map, much to the shame of the little family I have left. I’m angry at myself. loving careless. I could have tripped the alarm. I’ve got so much tech in my head, I can’t remember if I got these augs before my last school medical eval. But no alerts so far. Either it didn’t catch my tech or I dropped out at the right time.
I check my pockets for the tickets I grabbed from the recruiters desk. I knew they’d have some. They always have a few handy. You want to join up that bad, they can ship you to bootcamp that day. I switch on my telecom aug. It rings inside my head. It keeps ringing. “Hey, you got Eddie,” the voicemail message says. “Say what you gotta say.”
“Eddie,” I respond. “It’s Gray. I got the tickets. Call me back. loving pronto.”
I disconnect. Hopefully he didn’t get dumb as try to stowaway on an evac-ship. It just takes one guard to catch them on facial rec before they catch a bullet. But if you got military clearance, they don’t care what your record says. I call again, but no answer. A third time, nothing. Maybe he’s just busy, I tell myself. I don’t stop telling myself.
The flickering halogen bulbs light the room, illuminating the damp checkerboard patterned floors and moldy exposed pipes. The school looks like it’s been abandoned for centuries, but it doesn’t look too dissimilar from freshman year. Out of curiosity, I flip through the datascreen on the desk. Just to see if mom left any old lesson plans in her files. She has one unread email, subject line: North Anchorage High School - In Memorial. My stomach drops, but I still click it. Topping the list of recent casualties is the most recent Yearbook photo of Dr. Delores Gray, English department.
Mom looks good in the photo. Healthy. There’s an odd comfort in her pleasant, professional smile in the image. Makes me feel like less of a disappointment. The picture must be from this year. I can’t tell if it was before or after the last time she saw me in juvie. Not that it really matters. It’s still nice to see her conscious. Not in the chem attack induced comatose state she was in when I broke out. I thought I got lucky when the bombs hit the south side of town, knocking down a couple detention center walls. Didn’t realize the nasty poo poo hit up north. Not that our conversation would have been pleasant anyway. I had a long list of gently caress ups to begin with before adding a jail break to that list. Regardless, the conversation would have ended the same way it had since I left North Archorage. “You were so close.” That phrase loving hurt every time. Like I was one decision away from not being an embarassment.
A bomb hits a few blocks down. The building shakes in the rumble. The datascreen flickers as dust trickles from the ceiling. I steady myself and notice the screen clicked back to the default menu. I scroll through the files until I find the one marked “Tests.” I press it, opening a series subfolders. One of which says “General Education Development.” I laugh. Gotta kill time somehow. And while mom isn’t here to appreciate it, she would hopefully find it a little funny that I got bored and decided to pass high school. I hit the keys and sit at my old desk.
The first section isn’t too hard. Mathematics. You spend enough time tech cracking, you get a little good with numbers. You understand how to work a formula. Language arts is next. You gotta read some bits from different book and say what they mean. Don’t know what a green gable is exactly. But I’ve used enough fake names myself to guess why this chick wants to go by "Cordelia." poo poo, maybe Mom did have a point. Maybe I should have just toughed it out. The questions I get, the more I want to try.
A blast rings from downstairs. Shout follows with the distinct noises of smashing and grabbing. Could be scavengers. Could be baron’s men looking for hold outs. Could be whoever from Detroit or Denmark. I stand up and rush to the nearest bookshelf, tipping it over so it blocks the door. Then I dash back to the desk, because this test is timed.
Social studies is next. Don’t know what the gently caress “Manifest Destiny” means, but they got a little description here. Last section is science. The shouting is coming from the hall now. Disrupted only by the quaking after two intense explosions from barely a few blocks away. The screen flickers again, but I don’t lose my place. The science section I breeze through. Mostly charts and data. poo poo I see in my ocular implants when I’m running diagnostics on the rest of my loving implants. I get to the end of the section, looking for the little “Next” button in the corner, but I don’t see it. Only one that says “Finish.”
Riffle fire pierces the classroom door as I submit the test. I run the hack on the window shields the armed invaders shove their way through. As I wait for the shields to lift, I catch a glimpse of my final grade: 145 - Pass. Guess I did it mom, I utter to myself as the bookshelf gives way.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 07:57|
A year after we discovered the artifact in the basement of the library that turned five humble librarians into would-be heroes, Earth’s last defense against the legions of the damned, we realized we were on the precipice of failure. Major cities had been overrun, society was collapsing, and the chaos was beginning to spread away from metropolitan areas and into the countryside where the affected had sought refuge.
We didn’t understand the strange technology that kept our humble rural library safe, but we existed in a bubble that the damned had not breached in their ransacking of civilization. From within our protected base, we’d launched missions to intercept demons and monsters, defeating many of them, but there were always more.
The friendly AI that projected from the artifact was our compass: a source of information and a moral guide. He gave us missions, taught us to used the advanced weapons found nearby, and shepherded us through the mayhem. Though his answers could be cryptic and vague, he assured us he was programmed to give us only the information we needed, when we needed it. Thus we arrive at our impasse:
“Yeah, but who programmed you to be a dick?” said Beth, the blue librarian. She’d only been an intern, barely able to tell the difference between Mystery Ch-Do and Literature Gr-Hu before she’d touched the artifact, instantly learned martial arts, and could now do a backflip over almost anything.
“Irrelevant,” said the AI. “All you need to know is that I care about you. Now everybody come get your sustenance discs.” The artifact hummed and five small wafers slid out onto the table it was perched on.
Roy, the red librarian, picked up his sustenance disc. “Why couldn’t we have moved the artifact to a grocery store or something?” He placed the disc on his tongue and gagged. “These can’t be good for us.” Roy pushed up his glasses like his Library Sciences Master’s thesis had pushed a dubious analysis of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.
The artifact glowed. “Actually, the discs are formulated to be perfectly balanced for a growing human body. Flavor was deemed irrelevant.”
“Wrong again, then,” said the lovely Whitney, the white librarian. She stood in the doorway of the break room, silhouetted by the sky, her librarian’s blade dripping with demon blood. We all stopped and looked at her and basked in her power. A full librarian, capable of quieting a whole room with a single shush and clearing a hillside of demons with her Dragon’s Whisper.
“Welcome back, Whitney!” I said, maybe a little too eagerly. “Just in time for supper.”
“I don’t have time for those lovely Space Neccos right now,” she said. “I’ve finished my secret quest given to me by the artifact and have returned with The Relic.” She removed the object she had strapped to her back and held it aloft.
“I don’t recall…Place it on the table please, White Librarian,” said the artifact. “So that I can see what you’ve brought.”
Whitney did as instructed. It was an old book, an ecru cover stained with rusty splotches. In demonic script it read THE NECROMNIBUS. It was at least a foot thick and latched with a padlock of antiquity.
We gathered around the table and marveled at its splendor. Gary, the gray librarian who seldom spoke but was deadly with a foot stool, pointed at it. “That’s human skin.”
Whitney scoffed. “I don’t think so, it’s just dusty.”
I ran my finger along the book and brought it close to my face. I recognized the white detritus with small holes, as I was similarly afflicted. “That’s not dust, it’s dandruff.”
“Oh, god dammit,” said Whitney, frantically brushing off her shoulders. “It touched me the whole ride back.”
“The condition of the book’s cover is irrelevant,” said the artifact. “Please focus on–”
“Man, gently caress this machine,” said Roy, and he kicked the artifact off the table before any of us could stop him.
The artifact broke and a little bit of ooze came out and dribbled onto the floor. It smelled of rotten eggs. The projection of the AI’s face sputtered and went out, his last pleas for his life came out high pitched and ridiculous sounding.
We all covered our noses and tried not to laugh as we retreated to the far corner of the library where the smell was less bad.
Whitney mocked the begging artifact in a high pitch whine: “Nooo! The fate of the world is in your hands! Arghhhhhhhhhh!...”
We all laughed. It was a pretty good impression.
“I can’t believe I ate something that came out of that,” said Roy. He gagged again.
My stomach turned as well. “Wait, we forgot the book.” I looked around at my librarian colleagues, all with their noses in their appropriately colored shirts.
Nobody volunteered to go back for it.
I sighed. They’d been calling me the Brown Librarian, and I’d learned alongside them, trained in the laser weapons and energy blades, cut down demons and beheaded monsters as one-fifth of a large patchwork automaton. But I wasn’t like them. I wasn’t a librarian. Hell, I wouldn’t even be caught dead in a library under normal circumstances, but it just happened that when the portal to the underworld opened there was also a scholastic book fair going on, and I was only there to browse the poster collection of sports cars. “I’ll go get it,” I said. “I’ve smelled worse things. I mean I’ve been bunking next to Gary for a month.”
He smiled and shrugged.
I left to retrieve the book, stopping to vomit several times along the way. When I finally reached it and picked it up, I noticed the lock had been picked open, and only whomever had done it had only thought they’d relatched it. But it was a trick lock, it’s tumblers were set to only appear set so that the book’s owner could always tell if somebody had gotten in, an old pirate’s trick.
I jiggled the lock and the book opened to the last page that had been studied, and I almost did a spit take with my own vomit when I saw that the page detailed how to open a portal to the underworld. Underneath was the counter spell, the key to shutting it all down and instantly cutting off the demons and monsters from their source of power. They’d be easy to mop up after that.
I ran back to the group with the book, dodging my piles of barf. I burst into the room and slammed the book down on the table. “Guys! The book! It tells us how to shut down the portal!”
“Wait,” said Whitney, her beautiful face suddenly blemished with hate. “How did you open it? Only I…” She clasped her hands over her mouth.
Roy didn’t know much, especially not about literature, but he knew when he’d seen somebody blurt out something they shouldn’t have. He grabbed Whitney’s arms and held them behind her back.
“The book was already open…” I said. “Right to the page about portals.”
Beth stepped forward and opened the front cover. She pulled out the library card in the front of the book and gasped. “It says this book was last checked out by…” but she didn’t have to finish. We all looked at the Librarian.
“You fools!” she barked. “They were going to shut down the library due to budget cuts! This is what they deserve!”
“No, the only one here who is going to get what they deserve is you, Whitney,” said Gary, with his trademark laconic wit. “Lock her in the lost and found.”
Closing the portal was trivial. Mopping up the rest of the demons and monsters proved a little harder, but not much. When everything was said and done, the mayor decided to reallocate money to keep the library open.
They turned to me. “You know we need a new librarian…”
I smiled and nodded my head. “I’d be honored.” I took the NECROMNIBUS back and scanned it. “Oh, and I’ll waive the late charges.”
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 08:00|
To the Reclaimers
flerp fucked around with this message at 20:06 on Oct 9, 2022
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 09:08|
Submissions closed. Whiled DQed entries and redemptions are very welcome, people who toxxed to crit all of the stories only need to crit the ones already posted to meet their toxx.
failures are a few days older and have no story to show for it.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 09:57|
I'm crittin ya shiiiit!
Alright, so the big takeaways:
1. Too many characters. I had no idea what was the deal with Beth or Roy or Gary because there weren't enough words to give them one.
2. I liked the part where they killed the AI, but by the end, it seemed like that character was...irrelevant.
3. Since this is a parody of Power Rangers/Sailor Moon/any major property where regular people get color-coded superpowers, maybe make it, I dunno, cheesier? "The real magic is READING!" or something.
|# ? Jan 17, 2022 21:37|
Crits part 1. Part 2 tomorrow.
TDW 493 Crits
OrganBurner: Royce at the end of the world
Does it satisfy the prompt? No. Does it satisfy the sub-prompt? No. The story only sets the trappings, what does Royce do while existing in a void? Is the school important? Is his relationship with the Principal important? Is anything important to Royce beyond not being bullied? Stripping this story down to its base elements, you have a young wizard who has gotten himself and everyone he knows in a real bind. That’s it. To match the prompt, what happens next would be the story. If you want to improve what you have currently written, align the tone of the events with the thrust of your story, identify your narrative voice and stick to it, cut extraneous details, and provide either stakes or characterization or wants.
Examples to the previous suggestions:
Tone: Royce is presented as a hapless victim, but he also makes very poor choices, and this is a regularity. The Harry Potter-esque nature of children being exposed to mortal danger muddies cause and effect. Royce is bullied, but whole and hale, and his bullies are eviscerated by trolls.
Narrative Voice: What you choose to describe matters. “The principal, Aaron Grundwisser, was a hot shot young wizard only in his 30's yet he had somehow gotten this post in a rural wizarding high school.” This is an opinion, who’s opinion? “…but it wasn't as if Royce was bad. Just clumsy.” This is also an opinion. But then you lose this voice. There is no more contextualization of what’s happening in the world. Be more consistent.
Cut Extraneous Details: There are too many instances without a line crit, but here is one. “The principal continued with a forced calmness. Royce could tell the principal was angry.” Those two sentences say the same thing. If your audience can tell the principal is angry, and its not a relevant whether Royce knows or does not know, do not repeat yourself for the sake of in-story acknowledgment.
Stakes/Character/Wants: Royce never made a meaningful choice. The choices he made were in absence of knowing their repercussions. He attempted to fix his own mistakes, but learned nothing of them or of honesty. In fact, Royce seems perfectly content to exist in this void, but at the same time, why as a reader should we feel anything else? Is Royce a petulant tyrant? Currently, his actions have doomed an entire boarding school of people, in the very least, the murder of bullies. He is unrepentant and relieved.
Ceighk: Johan Joah
Does it satisfy the prompt? Yes. Does it satisfy the sub-prompt? Yes.
This is an interesting take on the story within a story, and personally I’m not sure it entirely works. Your characterization does work for a pompous royal, but you do lose the bombastic prose from time to time, such as “but your murderous intent was hot enough that I could overlook your cheesy delivery.” This is a contemporary-esque phrasing, which is not similar to the rest of the writing. The story makes use of the bed-time story quality in the subprompt, otherwise though, this is quite stilted. It does require the subprompt to inform the reader of the tone when you subvert the structure of the bed time story of heroes and villains. Where you do fall flat are the expectations you set up in the opening paragraphs, with the delivery of the final paragraphs. The opening paragraphs indicate that this is a re-telling from a distant future, but the end indicates that perhaps only two days have passed? If that is not your intent, you falter at the ending because there is no indication that Johan continues to try to murder the Spymaster. “Johan, those were the days! … When I never knew if you wanted me alone so you could kiss me or kill me or both.” What this describes never happens. Johan only attempts to kill her the entire time, or he has become her confidant and lover. Never both. You are not utilizing the format of story within a story effectively. The benefit to this format is that you can sacrifice showing by telling for the ability to move through time and space very quickly. You spend a lot of time describing things happening in real time action, and they happen right after each other sequence. To really get the most out of both the opening set up, and the structure of the story, kick all those attempted poisonings and assassinations out to separate events.
Staggy: The Monument
Does it satisfy the prompt? Yes.
This is very good. Criticisms lay in potentially a line edit, and a little subjectively. I’m the kind of person who does not believe ‘toenails can ring.’ I understand what you were going for, and this not a universal opinion. The expectation that if an ark is being built, then it is not just a monument, but a vehicle for salvation, but I’m not certain that this is the case? The ark certainly satisfies the kind of collaborative, togetherness required for thematic symbolism, but I think it goes a little astray in the aftermath. Is there something beyond an ark that more succinctly encapsulates a monument? I don’t know, but as said before, not much can be worked on here.
SurreptitiousMuffin: To Those Who Came After
Does it satisfy the prompt? Yes. Does it satisfy the subprompt? Yes.
This is a difficult one to crit. It is good. It tells you immediately that there is no possibility of hope, but also maintains just enough to allow you to think there might be some small victory, a semblance of hope, a sprouted orange tree, but the answer is known. The story delivers on the premise.
Does it satisfy the prompt? No. Does it satisfy the subprompt? No.
Griselda is loosely a goblin protector, but I don’t actually know why. I don’t think this satisfies the main prompt due to a lack of urgency and gravitas. I don’t know that the goblins will be wiped out, I don’t know that goblins are worthy of saving, as you have not characterized the goblins. Why is a witch the one saving goblins, why is a goblin not saving goblins? “if she could add more evidence…” this is the part where you add this information, but you have not. In fact, the adventurers have more compelling reasons for why the goblins should be exterminated. I also do not think this satisfies the subprompt beyond the inclusion of a goblin. Is there any begrudging walking? Are there any whispers? Are there any warts? You have a prompt that can do a lot of things, but instead its just a story that leans on comedic fantasy tropes. It is missing stakes, characterization, and impact.
Albatrossy_Rodent: The Sea Turtle and Octopus
Does it satisfy the prompt? Kind of. Does it satisfy the subprompt? No.
Sea turtles lay their eggs at night . This does not satisfy the prompt because there is no effort shown in the story that the turtle has done anything other than a standard biological process. You have told me she went on a quest, but you have not shown me. To what relevancy is the octopus? Are there only male turtles left? The other problem is that your story directly counters the importance of the turtle. The octopus says that green is not death, but life, and that other things may live on, just not turtles. So why are the turtles important? This also does not satisfy the subprompt because you have a prime opportunity to have the octopus attempt to shield himself from the sun with his tentacles. Why is this ignored? I’m not especially hopeful at the end of this story.
Idle Amalgam – Super Crypto Bros
Does this satisfy the prompt? No. Does this satisfy the subprompt? No.
This isn’t a story. Mechanically and narratively this is not a story and it is not interesting. Did you stop adding time stamps because you ran out of words? This has so much more potential to be a compelling story of a person who has made poor decisions based on fallacies and panic that negatively impacts themselves and others, instead you write the equivalent of a twitter feed.
Grandma Party – Priorities
Does this satisfy the prompt? I’m unconvinced.
This is a fine story. There’s not too much to really critique, but it’s missing some soul. I’m unconvinced it satisfies the prompt because the story presents an exit. Why is Davis’ duty so crucial to him as a character? Where is the hope here? Where’s the hope beyond hope, the absurdity of hope? Where are the deserters who have been punished? This needs chopping so you can free up space to infuse the heart to the characters. For example:
“Staring at the watchful eyes of enemy campfires…” this is where you start your story. You burn near 200 words setting this up, when your first two sentences take care of it. You spend a lot of time explaining the concept of a siege, general politicking, background, but that’s not especially relevant to the story because it doesn’t mean anything to Davis. Why is Wenland named by the city is not? Why is Wenland more important than the city Davis is protecting? These details are what keep Davis from having that narrative gravitas. Why is Slow Hand convincing Davis to flee? Where is the rapport? What’s the difference between Slow Hand slitting his throat, tossing him over the wall, and lowering the rope himself? I think you have the reasons, but you have not shown them. Show the reasons, and if you’ve run out of room, trust the reader to make some leaps, but show the good stuff, the meat of the human condition.
You spend 350 words starting at ““Do you know what this war is about, boy?” and ending at “It’s a war. Find some rope, hook it off the side, rappel down, I’ll pull it up after you. And none of my boys will care.” But what real crucial details were in that entire exchange that couldn’t have been cut, or the story wouldn’t have made sense?
Chernobyl Princess – Paper Hearts
Does it satisfy the prompt? I suppose. Does it satisfy the subprompt? Yes?
This is fine enough of a story, but I don’t think it satisfies the prompt too entirely. The paper dolls are not at the end of anything, in fact they when they noticed their peril, they solved it fairly quickly. What does it mean to be a paper doll? Not mechanically, we already know that (and you spend too many words explaining how a paper doll works, different kinds of birds, and others). What’s so integral to the story that they be paper dolls? This is not a criticism of making a story based on paper dolls, it is a criticism of how you have presented them. They function essentially like humans, so why are they not humans? The dolls also have not changed their behavior despite their god abandoning them 6 years ago. Why is it only just now they’re trying to figure out what happens next, and why is it important to the story? Why is it important that she might be dead, but she isn’t? Give me the real narrative weight of this story, especially because it appears as though there is ample supplies to keep the village going indefinitely.
Tyrannosaurus - in front of a funky green sky, a banjo player gets some bad news
Does it satisfy the prompt? I don’t think so. Does it satisfy the subprompt? Yes.
I’m missing the stakes and the existential threat the prompt is asking for. Carl appears perfectly at ease with the end of his life, despite the absence of a companion. Iosefa is not faced with finality, only the illusion of it. Its quirky, cute, competently written, but the “Do you think you’re getting nervous because you’re approaching this nebulous self-defined deadline for success and you feel like you haven’t succeeded enough to justify your father’s faith in you and are self-sabotaging because you are worried that you actually don’t deserve to be here?” crux of the story is not followed up. You’ve said it, so now what? I don’t think that question gets answered.
|# ? Jan 18, 2022 03:57|
Week 493 Judgment
Lots of variation in the judge's HM picks. There was something for everyone! It took some time to agree on our top picks, which IMO reflects well on the entries. The DM picks were completely unanimous, though the bottom three stories were all very different from each other.
No one wrote a total bummer, though we struggled to see how some stories related to the main prompt of the week.
organburner - This one needed some more time to marinate. A few too many things didn't make sense, and the judges weren't totally sure how the story related to the main prompt.
Idle Amalgam - The writing was fine, but this was barely a story. It was pretty much just a straightforward account of the emergence of crypto and NFTs.
A Man Called M - Are you having anyone crit your entries before you post them? It might help!
Ceighk - You wrote an absolute banger of a narrator, a spymistress after my own heart
Antivehicular - Cool protagonist, worldbuilding drawn with a light touch
Chernobyl Princess - A sweet story with an interesting problem
Tyrannosaurus - Whimsy and wisdom that does interesting stuff with the sub-prompt
This story was already getting out of its chair to accept the win before the winner was announced. This week's victor is of course Muffin, who wrote a densely woven meditation on persistence in a universe of endings.
Welcome back to the bloodthrone. Old blood good blood.
to have my crits in before 11:11PM tomorrow night.
if you toxxed for crits you have until Wednesday, 1/19 at 11:59PM PST to complete your crits
|# ? Jan 18, 2022 07:17|
Week 494: I'm Too Old For This poo poo
Oh god, why do I do this to myself, I have zero prompt ideas, so I'm recycling an old favourite ... with a twist. Well not a twist, my hips don't fuckin torque like they used to mate.
Short fiction is hard, there is very little room for error. Literary realist short fiction thrives at least in part because it doesn't need to explain anything and can just get right to the heart of things. Fantasy and sci-fi are genres built for the novel, because a core part of the experience is going somewhere new and exploring it, and that's sorta hard to do when you've only got a small space to capture them. Which is why that's exactly what you're doing. But also, I've done this prompt before, and I am tired and old, my bones ache, god is tottering in his throne of skulls, and also I'm sick of all these impossibly precocious teenage heroes, I want some gnarly old fucks and I'm gonna get real nasty with it.
1) You are writing secondary-world fantasy
2) When you sign up, I will assign you a grizzled older person who must be your protagonist
What's a secondary world?
Middle Earth, Westeros, Earthsea, you get it. A place you made up.
Are the old people real?
No, you are creating worlds, I am creating grizzled old people who must inhabit them.
Word Count: 1200
Signup deadline: Friday 11:59 pm EST
Submission deadline: Sunday 11:59pm EST
rohan: Lemme tell you about this sweet old man, he is so NICE, he's got a lovely crooked smile, and a hat, and a silver tongue, and there is a gleam in his eye that tells you he is absolutely up to no good
Staggy: this lady has got scars on scars, her skin looks hard as teak, you've never seen a warrior her age, and every day she gets up and stares at the mountain like she's got a score to settle
Thranguy: she lives in a tottering tower, hand-built one floor at a time, each floor a testament to a stage in her life
flerp: oh no this old person knows all the herbs, the ones that cure but also the ones that definitely don't cure
Bad Seafood: this guy is nasty, he is friends with all the bugs, every bug, my guy is just crawling with the loving things
organburner: golden oldie who was once the most famous musician in all the land but they are being HUNTED, oh no!
steeltoedsneakers: this land is filled with rotten old machines and this guy knows 'em all, he can breathe life into them like god breathing life into clay
Albatrossy_Rodent: everybody in this entire land is a wizard EXCEPT this guy, but he's got a few tricks up his sleeve, yessir
Tyrannosaurus: birds, whoever your old person is just loves 'em, knows all their songs, can whisper sweetly to 'em, just all birds all the time babyyyy
CaligulaKangaroo: old old old, a methuselah, has walked the land for an endless aeon and has seen it all, and more importantly they've seen what's coming
yeah ok ok yeah: the world is changing, a new era is fast dawning, and an old legend and/or monster has found themselves being left behind, but they're not going out quietly
QuoProQuid: the first mistake the dead make is to assume that nature is kind; nature simply does not care. Your old person understands this accutely, and who betide those who cross them
Nae: he's a walker, he walks everywhere, ain't nobody who has walked as far, has seen as much up close and beautiful, but the world is getting too drat fast
Noah: they see patterns in the smoke, possibilities, past and present and future all in the roiling haze, what do they do when the world is afire?
GrandmaParty: GrandmaParty I want you to write a Party Grandma, she's so loving fun omg, and the world really needs that right now
Ceighk: this is the wise old wizardly mentor to a thousand young men and women, except magic isn't real and he's totally just faking it
Idle Amalgam: this person keeps dying and being endlessly resurrected and each time they die they come back young but each time they die they come back just a little more wrong and they know this and they're starting to have doubts about the whole immortality thing
Chernobyl Princess: this is two old people, a sweet old couple who bicker but love each other deeply
Chairchucker: is there anything tea CAN'T do? If anybody would know it's this oldie, they're a renowned expert, but can their deep knowledge and love of tea defeat the dragon/end a war/save the world etc?
The man called M: headmaster of a school for assassins finds themselves called back in for one last job
My Shark Waifuu: packrat, endless pockets, can improvise their way out of anything
Something Else: TEETH TEETH TEETH TEETH TEETH TEETH NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH
Jeza: humans never stop growing, every year that passes they get taller until their bodies can no longer support them, and this is the oldest man in history
crabrock: mean old mister whatsit lives in a house with legs and he kidnaps and eats children but he makes them listen to poo poo music first because it makes the meat taste worse
Antivehicular: COUNTRY ROOOOOOAD/TAKE ME HOOOOOME/TO THE PLAAAACE/I BELOOOOOONG/A SECONDARY WORLD/WHERE YOUR OLDIE/IS A BAAAARD/OH IS A BARD
SvengoolieSvenross: She knows the forbidden magic of the deep -- whereever she goes, the ocean is only a puddle away
Obliterati: increasingly frustrated oldie who has – against their will or inclination – found themselves in charge of a small army of cats
Sitting Here: dig dig dig, there's no digger bigger, if you want a hole, this oldie's the soul (you need)
SurreptitiousMuffin fucked around with this message at 10:21 on Jan 22, 2022
|# ? Jan 18, 2022 08:04|
okay yep in with a since I failed last week
|# ? Jan 18, 2022 08:10|
|# ? Jan 18, 2022 08:10|
|# ? Jan 18, 2022 08:15|
|# ? Dec 1, 2023 10:51|
Lemme tell you about this sweet old man, he is so NICE, he's got a lovely crooked smile, and a hat, and a silver tongue, and there is a gleam in his eye that tells you he is absolutely up to no good
okay yep in with a since I failed last week
|# ? Jan 18, 2022 08:20|