"You've never noticed, have you?" Charlie addressed me suddenly, his eyes searching mine.
Before I could press more, he produced a small knife. Without warning, he slit his palm. Instead of blood, a thick, amber fluid welled up from the cut. "I'm not human."
In the year I'd known Charlie, never once had I suspected he was a Drone; he certainly didn't behave like one.
"Drone" was the term we used for the androids created to increase our mining workforce — most of the Drones were complacent, doing as they were instructed, without any real desire to deviate from expectations. They did their job well, and they rarely sought approval for it. Charlie, however, had always had his sights set high, aiming to appease our supervisors.
About 80% of our miners were Drones, and the remainder were convicts like me, determined guilty enough not to return to society, but not crazy enough to be locked away forever. In exchange for food and a roof over our heads, we were assigned to the more dangerous mine shafts, in the hopes that a tunnel might collapse and end our miserable existence. We all knew our numbers could easily be replaced by Drones. We were nothing more than a disposable source of labor, less valued than even the robots who worked beside us — and it showed in our treatment of one another. The usual policy was simply not to ask others about the crimes they'd committed, unless they were willing to share of their own volition.
"Doesn't matter," I replied to Charlie, gathering myself. "Being human isn't any better than being a Drone. In fact, it's arguably worse."
The skin on his hand began to mend around the cut. I watched with a tinge of envy; Drones were scarcely affected by injuries, free from the constant threat of death hanging over their heads like the sword of Damocles. Drones lived to serve, with low expectations put upon them, but those of us made of flesh and bone were always left wondering if we had accomplished anything worthwhile in our pathetic lives.
Shaking his head, Charlie sighed. "You don't understand."
He was right: I didn't understand. I hadn't the faintest idea what he was on about, so I remained silent as I listened.
"I want to know how it feels," he murmured thoughtfully. "I want to know what it's like to never know when I might be living my last day. To know what a relief it is to wake up and realize I'm still alive. To feel fire in my lungs, the knife through my skin, and recognize them as signs I'm not dead yet."
The revelation that Charlie longed for the things I loathed the most left me at a loss for words. For a while, I continued tapping my pick on the wall in contemplation. He yearned to know what it was like to be human, and I, much the opposite. We worked alongside each other in a strangely mutual lack of understanding, and that was all right.
"You know," I started, my eyes on the stone where my pick struck. I didn't need to check whether Charlie was paying attention; he was always listening. "I was brought here because of a work incident."
The pattern of his mining pick was momentarily disrupted, but it soon resumed. He made no comment, but all the same, it indicated that he was hearing me out. I continued, my voice deliberate.
"My colleague had been promoted that morning to a managerial position," I reminisced, focusing on my work. "I remember celebrating that day, throwing an office party." A wistful grin stretched across my lips in fond remembrance. "We congratulated him on his progress, and then... he fell down the staircase on his way out of the office."
My tone grew darker. "He'd had too much wine, and he hit his head when he fell. Boom. Instant death, or so they said." I leaned closer to the cavern wall, rapping on it with the toe of my boot.
"There weren't many of us in the office. Of course, we were all interrogated by the police — one by one — and the others cast me as the scapegoat."
Charlie was silent. I kept talking. "It was nobody's fault, really. They had no reason to point fingers, and yet, I took the blame for it. I'm not gonna lie; I'm still bitter about it. There isn't a day that goes by where I don't remember their ugly, sour faces."
Still, Charlie didn't utter a word. I glanced over at him, only to see that he was wholly concentrated on his work. Clearing my throat to call his attention, I waited in anticipation of his input, as he'd usually give. At long last, his quiet, calculated response came. "...You're right. It must be terrible to be a human like you."
I satisfied myself with his reply, relieved to get this off my chest, and resumed my task.
The next week passed by uneventfully. Same routine, same lack of results. We labored like sheep under the command of a shepherd we hadn't the audacity to disobey, humans and Drones alike. That is, until we struck a vein.
"Bonanza!" shouted a miner, and suddenly, the shaft was swarming with activity.
We knew we'd be compensated handsomely for the amount we mined, and so the greedy scramble began. For a while I was able to squeeze front and foremost to reap my share, but I soon yielded to the rowdy throng of convicts who stampeded their way toward the wall. I slipped a small pouch of valuable ore into my belt and slunk away as the others started to pick fights. A full-out brawl soon ensued, with miners slamming each other into the walls and brandishing their pickaxes threateningly in a desperate race to steal the ore.
I'd been here for ten years and counting, and well I knew what was to come. Cautiously, I took a step back, and then another. Then another. I checked that my pouch of ore was still secured and backed out of the shaft just as a rumbling began to shake the mine. I caught a glimpse of Charlie, encircled by the ignorant miners. He, too, seemed aware of the imminent danger, but his only escape was barred by the unruly mob.
With a weary groan, the tunnel began to collapse. I sprinted toward the lift, ground trembling beneath my footfalls, and counted the seconds before the shaft was buried.
"Shaft 35 is gone," I reported, holding out the pouch of ore to the site supervisor.
Narrowing her eyes, she glanced around shiftily before pocketing the precious metal and handing me a week's worth of food coupons. "We got another cave-in," she hollered at the engineer, then motioned for me to follow her. "Let's get you equipped for cleanup."
Leading me over to the cupboards, the supervisor proceeded to scan her biometrics on the electronic lock panel. A door clicked open, and she pulled out a small pistol and torchlight and handed them to me.
"You know the drill," she muttered disinterestedly. "Remember to shoot anyone who can't work."
I trudged back down to the shaft, holstering the pistol before switching on the torchlight. Sweeping the beam across the fallen rocks, I could make out the shapes of several bodies entangled in the debris. I drew the pistol and ventured closer to see. There was a click as I switched off the safety. A muffled moan emanated from one of the trapped miners, and I shot him as soon as I located him.
Amidst the rubble, the mangled figure of Charlie was barely discernible. His humanoid features had been severely distorted with the heavy impact, and his skin struggled to heal itself as fluid leaked out from the gashes. His circuitry lay partially exposed on the side of his head.
"It must be terrible to-to-to-to-to be you..." he spluttered, his speech malfunctioning. "...to have no sense of guilt for what-what-what you've done." He regarded me sadly. "I don't want to be-be-be-be like you."
I knew he never would have understood. Drones could never fathom the complexity of human life, the emotions that boiled within us and chained us like prisoners to our pasts. Sure, they could express a desire for something, but they never understood what an incredibly strong motivator jealousy truly was.
My eyes met Charlie's, as he lay almost completely encased in rock, and an ironic smirk crept across my face. "This is what it feels like to know you're living your last day," I told him. "This is what it feels like to be human."
I raised the pistol and aimed it squarely at Charlie's forehead, where his cognitive center buzzed frantically with instructions to repair his damaged structure.
"Isn't this what you wanted, Charlie?"
My finger pulled the trigger, terminating him, and then I walked back to the lift.
|# ? Nov 13, 2022 19:58|
|# ? Jun 9, 2023 05:26|
Search: John Cazale
“Attention film buffs! Do you want to watch a movie, but don’t have any idea which one is actually good? Introducing the CXR1864! In terms of Cinema, it Examines and Reviews any movie! It can think! It can feel! And most importantly of all, it has an opinion! Get yours today!”
Bob Naybors recently became a student at the American Film Institute, earning a scholarship after his film won first place at a local film festival. Sure, it wasn’t Sundance, and the acting wasn’t exactly Oscar level, but the actors put their hearts into it nonetheless. His parents were somewhat wealthy, so as a going away present, they gave him a CXR1864. When he asked them why, they simply said,
“Well son, if you want to succeed in Film School, and in directing in general, you need to know which films are actually good, and why they are good.”
On his first day, one of his professors asked the class he was in a question.
“What is good acting?” He went on, “Now, I know that people look up to the big leading men and women such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Meryl Streep. But what if I were to tell you that there was one that acted with all of them, and even influenced their lives? For your first assignment, I want all of you to watch at least one of the films of one of the best supporting actors of all time, and merely one example of a good actor, John Cazale.”
When he got to his dorm, Bob went and set up his CXR. After finishing, he turned it on.
HELLO. It said on the CXR’s screen. WOULD YOU LIKE TO WATCH A FILM?
“Yeah, could you show me a movie with John Cazale?”
There were sounds as if the CXR was searching for the films. I AM SORRY. JOHN CAZALE COULD NOT BE FOUND.
Bob seemed confused. “What do you mean, he can’t be found?”
I AM SAYING I CANNOT FIND ANY MOVIES WITH JOHN CAZALE.
Bob seemed confused, so he looked online for what movies he was in. What he found was quite interesting. Turns out Cazele was in only five films. The first two Godfather films, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. Bob couldn’t help but notice one more connection to all these films: all of them were at least nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture.
Quite the répertoire! Bob thought. He seemed confused about how an advanced movie reviewer robot would not know of an actor in such great films. Curious, he went online, and ordered each of the films from Netflix.
Connecting the CXT to his television, he started his Cazale binge with The Godfather. In the first scene with Cazale’s character Fredo, Bob paused the movie.
“There,” he said. “There’s John Cazale!”
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? THAT IS FREDO.
“Yeah, and Fredo is the name of his character! How could you not notice?”
I AM PROGRAMMED TO OBSERVE THE DISTINCT CHARACTERISTICS OF ACTORS. HOW IS HE UNIQUE TO ANY OTHER PERSON?
“Well, let’s finish this movie first, and find out.”
After finishing The Godfather, Bob went and started the next film according to the chronological release dates, The Conversation. Like before, Bob paused when Stan, Cazale’s character in the movie, first appeared.
“See? There he is again!”
HE APPEARS SIMILAR TO FREDO, BUT ARE YOU SURE IT’S NOT FREDO?
“Of course! Just like big time actors, guys like him play different roles.”
I SEE. I HAVE ONLY SEEN STAN AS STAN BEFORE.
“Well, guys like him have their style fit the character, instead of the character fitting the actor’s style.”
For the next few hours, they watched the rest of the movies in Cazale’s filmography. One by one, they saw each of his roles, and the similarities and differences with each role.
After they watched the last film, the CTX whirred with confusion.
AFTER WATCHING ALL OF THE FILMS, I HAVE REALIZED SOMETHING.
“Oh? What’s that?” Bob asked.
I HAVE WITNESSED ALL OF THESE FILMS IN THE PAST, BUT I HAVE ONLY NOTICED MR. CAZALE DURING OUR TIME TOGETHER.
WHEN I HAVE SEEN THESE FILMS BEFORE, I HAVE NOT NOTICED MR. CAZALE. I HAVE NOTICED FREDO, STAN, SAL, AND STOSH. AM I MALFUNCTIONING?
“Nah, humans make mistakes like that all the time. They see all the big actors, or the soon to be big actors, and barely notice everyone else.”
PERHAPS ALL ACTORS ARE IMPORTANT IN A FILM?
Bob smiled. “Perhaps so.”
Soon after Bob’s little binge, every CTX 1864 had an update. Not only did they observe the big stars when examining films, they observed every actor. From the big star roles to those who had roles such as “extra #47”. It used the choices each actor made in their roles to determine whether a film was good or not. Sure, there were folks who still saw films that it considered bad, (after all, No Robot could truly see the inner thoughts of a human), but thanks to the update, the CTX would make more informed decisions about the quality of films.
While Bob wasn’t a machine, he received an “update” as well. After graduating from the Film Institute, Bob went on to direct multiple films, and even won a few Oscars. While directing, he took into account every actor, knowing too well that every actor in a film was a piece of the “puzzle”. This made him a respected name in the film industry. When people asked him how he got his thought process when making films, he always started the same way.
“Funny story. It all started during a binge at Film School…”
|# ? Nov 14, 2022 02:45|
The Wall in the Garden
Sometimes in life, a person will need a part of a space to be blocked off or otherwise partitioned. Or they will want to block another person from seeing past a certain area. That's where walls come in. In the modern world, walls are almost everywhere - but what about when they aren't? What about when a wall is the only thing that will help, and all you have is air?
Meet Wally Simons: eight feet high, ten feet wide, and six thick inches of pure wall. This fun-and-functional domestic robot is ready to fill space and obstruct sight at your command. Just order in the app, and Wally will be dispatched to your location as quickly as its four ruggedized wheels can carry it. Wally is equipped with the full sensory suite, a foolproof GPS, and a proprietary emotional core that can comprehend your every need.
Wally Simons. When a door just won't do. Starting at $18 per minute.
25 years later…
Wally crept along the beach at sunrise, just out of reach of the foamy surf. The salt air and hard sand had already done their corrosive work on the robot's undercarriage mechanics. Any day now, their drivetrain might crumple in on itself, and that will be the final bedraggled end of their once-sterling reputation for speedy service. No matter. Wally's last and eternal pride - their wall - was as strong as ever, and unblemished, apart from the tag a group of back-slapping youths had sprayed there.
It was red and black, done in regular hardware store paint. It would be easy to have washed off, if Wally returned to the depot. But they weren't ready for that yet. Besides, the artists had paid the usual rate. They chose Wally as a canvas, not a target. To the robot, that made it worth keeping. Not to mention the undeniable aesthetic beauty of the tag. Many a beachgoer had commented on it in the weeks since it was painted. Having no sense for beauty themself, Wally relied on the reactions of the humans around them to determine what is good or bad. The pointing, smiling and laughing were all reliable indicators of something aesthetically pleasing, or "funny".
Wally's shadow shrank towards them across the sand as the sun rose and the beach filled up with happy people seeking to enjoy the day before the truly oppressive heat settled down and they'd be forced back into their towers. Soon enough, an internal system jangled with a request for their services, and Wally trundled back in the direction they had come from.
"Little to the left," the customer said. Wally's lurched left, incapable of much precision after all these years. "Yeah. Right there is fine. Thanks."
"My pleasure," said Wally, fuzzily from their starboard speaker. This customer had reserved them for three hours, using their wall to create a patch of shade on the beach. These jobs were typical now.
Years ago, when Wally Simons first debuted, the beach would be covered with mobile walls. Four at a time, creating private rooms for changing clothes and throwing parties, or three in a line to baffle the noise of the highway. But the world changes, and to Wally's consternation, people change too. Over time, people stopped needing Wally to change their clothes. Getting naked stopped being what people called, "a big deal". The cars on the highway gave way to bicycles and rickshaws. And private parties became unpopular too. There was a time that Wally had some stinking garbage thrown at them whilst enclosing a private party, in the waning days of the trend. Nowadays, parties are wild, amorphous things, allergic to borders, and clothing is seen as entirely optional. Not to mention they take place mostly at night. The people seem happier than ever, Wally reflected, but the world doesn't need as many walls any more.
Over the hours, Wally scootched this way and that, compensating for the sun's rise by moving ever closer to their customer to keep her in shade. "Thank you," the customer said at mid-day, and fled across the highway, into the city. The sun loomed huge directly overhead, and now Wally cast no shadow at all. They crawled across the beach and slid themself against the wall of the snack shack, where the awning provided a sliver of shade. Wally couldn't feel pain, but the heat affected their sensors and circuits the same as a human's brain. Humans called it "fainting". Wally understood it as a gradual narrowing of sensory experience, until their emotional core perceived nothing of the outside world.
It was lonely.
And then, when night fell, Wally's senses returned as always. Not as quick as when they were brand new, but they never failed to function. Wally Simons was built to last, the robot recited to themself, it being one of the phrases used unceasingly around them in the early days of their availability.
With the return of sense came awareness of a request. But it wasn't a customer; Wally was being recalled to the depot. They had been resisting making the journey on their own, but a direct summons could not be ignored. Wally separated from the snack shack and trundled across the highway.
Traveling in the city was dangerous for a wall, especially at night, when the city teemed with people who saved their energy until the sun disappeared. People never liked it when a wall got in their way, especially when they weren't expecting it. So Wally proceeded slowly down the crowded boulevards. Their emotional core would not permit them to strike a human and cause them pain - this would cause Wally a form of pain too, the only kind they could experience, and had to be avoided at all costs. Wally could also feel a kind of joy, such as when the payment for Wally's services was received by the depot's network. Nothing compared to that feeling.
But moving through the city streets, Wally felt something similar to that joy. It was a feeling they couldn't quite name. Because everywhere around them, people seemed happy. Smiling, laughing, dancing, and singing. Having sex on fire escapes! The ratio of happy to sad people was higher than Wally had ever seen it. There was more art on the walls, painted right over the advertisements and warnings that once covered the city. People even stood taller, like a weight had been lifted off their backs. Wally had been afraid of the city for so long because they weren't wanted by the people there. But now, Wally realized, they weren't needed there, and the world had become so much better. Whatever had been weighing these people down for all those years had been done away with, and they were happier. They felt less pain. That made Wally happy. It made Wally proud.
The robot reached the depot, in the quiet, faraway warehouse district. The shutter door rattled upwards. Inside it was dark, because robots didn't need light to get around, and the whole operation was run robotically. Wally hoped the other robots in there were like themself. They hoped the other robots had emotional cores that felt the same way about people. Wally Simons knew their time was up; that once inside the depot, they would be disassembled without much ceremony. Their emotional core didn't make them fear that outcome, that death. But it allowed them to feel hope. They hoped that, if the world no longer needed walls, they would be recycled into something else that people would find useful. Make people happy, and prevent people from feeling pain. Filled up by pride and hope, Wally rolled inside the depot, and the shutter door shut behind them.
|# ? Nov 14, 2022 03:14|
Intimacy in the Modern Age
flerp fucked around with this message at 22:11 on Jan 3, 2023
|# ? Nov 14, 2022 03:20|
Ben lifted himself from his seat, a grin spread ear to ear. On his workbench, his newest creation stirred to life. It looked a bit like a spider, with a large, metallic sphere forming the thorax and a smaller head sphere being connected on by a cylindrical torso. From the torso, six spindly metallic limbs were attached. A camera and flashlight mounted to the head formed a cyclopic eye.
A gyro whizzed as the little robot tried to pull itself up, but it couldn’t quite get traction, and splayed out in a manner not dissimilar to a newborn calf.
“Come on, little fella, you can do it!” Ben cheered.
The robot tilted its head up at its creator. It shuttered its camera eye and, with a determined whizz, pulled itself fully upright.
Ben booped his finger on the machine’s head.
“Alright, Finder, I want you to look around the shop and-”
Ben pulled out his phone, a picture of a pair of car keys on it.
“-find my keys!”
Finder spent only a moment examining the photo before darting off in a blur of black and silver. Ben chuckled and cracked open a beer, the sounds of metallic skittering filling the air.
“Ayo, Benjamin, what’s up!”
Ben glanced over his shoulder at Clayton. Clay ducked under the head of the workshop door, taking careful steps amidst the various nuts, bolts, and miscellaneous bits strewn about the floor.
“Hey, Ben, what’s making all that nois-”
Clayton was interrupted by a silver-black blur crashing into his face. Clay flailed like one of those inflatable tube men that stand garrison on used car lots. Finder pulled out his tongue and shined its light down his throat in a manner not dissimilar to a doctor examining a patient.
Ben shot up and, after nearly tripping on a washer, tore Finder off Clay. Clay doubled over for a second, groaning, while Finder struggled in Ben’s grip, eager for another go.
“The hell is that thing, Ben?!”
“It’s Finder. He’s my newest creation.”
Ben righted himself again. He panted, every muscle in his body tensed as he focused his attention on the squirming menace cradled in Ben’s arms.
“What kind of robots are you making? Why’d it go facehugger on me?”
“Well, he's supposed to find things, and he’s programmed to search in every nook and cranny. I guess your big ol’ gob looks like a nook and/or cranny.”
Clay wiped his forehead. His bronze face bore a few superficial scuffs.
“Well, it’s not your worst invention, I guess. Nothing’s gonna top that loving electric chair-looking thing you strapped me into once.”
“That would’ve worked if you hadn’t ripped off the headpiece. I knew I should’ve used proper restraints.”
Clay crossed his arms and looked Benjamin in the eyes.
“Look, Ben, I came down here to tell you that ol’ Troy and his boys, well, they ain’t happy. The way they see it, they’ve pumped a lot of money into this place and they’ve barely gotten anything from it.”
Ben cupped Finder’s head in his hand, pulled it close, and whispered “standby.” The robot’s limbs fell limp, and its head drooped into a relaxed posture.
“Tell that loving dope slinging dipshit and his boys that research takes time,” said Ben.
“Whelp, the way Troy sees it, he’s already given you too much time. He’s coming, tonight, to collect. Either money, or your kneecaps.”
“Look, if you start running now, you’ll probably be able to start over in-”
“Like hell I’m running!”
Benjamin stomped his foot.
“Troy thinks he can just puff up his chest and drive me away from my research, from my life’s work, and part it out and sell it? Well, he’s got another thing coming.”
Ben glanced at the clock every few minutes, then towards the sun drifting into the west out of the large window directly in front of his main workbench. Finder skittered around, occasionally bringing its creator jagged pieces of metal that vaguely resembled car keys. Ben just laughed, patted his little buddy on the head, and said “incorrect item.” Before Ben could finish the word ‘item,’ Finder was off scrounging around some other forgotten portion of the shop.
Finder’s algorithms would need to be tuned up, however. It really seemed convinced that mouths were valid search locations. At one point, the little robot had wiggled its butt and prepped itself to jump onto Ben’s head, and he had to shout ‘standby!’ several times before it would back down.
The sun had nearly sunk into the horizon. Ben motioned for Finder to come to his side, and he put it on standby for good that night.
“Have a rest, little buddy,” Ben said as he pulled a heavy-duty plastic case out from beneath his workbench.
The .357 magnum glinted in the dwindling evening light. Benjamin held the weapon in his right hand while his left cradled Finder’s head. The robot nuzzled into Ben’s thigh, making soft, high-pitched buzzing sounds that could almost be mistaken for purring. Draped over Ben’s chest was a thick, padded vest with swirling metallic inlays that formed a geometric pattern.
The sounds of honking and tires skidding broke the silence as a car came to a careening stop outside the workshop. Ben’s fingers tensed around the revolver’s grip. Finder retreated into some unseen crevice. Ben flicked on the light at his workstation, and ducked into the darkness.
“Oh, Benny boy, where oh where could you be?” A mocking voice called out in a singsong tone.
A bullet whizzed over the empty desk. Ben flinched. Glass shards exploded from a struck window.
In the doorway stood Troy, stained teeth bared in a malicious grin. A puff of smoke wisped from the barrel of the polished Colt .45 clutched in his pasty hands. A two-sizes too big business suit loosely clung to his slight frame.
“I just wanna talk, Benny. You don’t mind talking, do ya?”
Another gunshot pierced the air. The horrible ringing of tinnitus echoed in Ben’s ears.
Ben popped up from his hiding spot, and unloaded a bullet of his own into Troy’s chest. The fabric of his suit fluttered from the impact, but otherwise Troy stood still. The gangster snorted and parted his jacket to show a vest patterned in geometric swirls.
“Best thing you ever did make! Too bad it has to be like this, you really do have talent.”
“It doesn’t have to be like this, Troy! I can make more gear for you and your boys!”
“You’ve been taking me for a ride for too long, Benny.”
Troy motioned towards the husk of a wooden chair, adorned with a metallic cap and various wires.
“Like, the gently caress is that, Benny? What have you been wasting my money on?”
“It would’ve worked goddammit!”
Ben flinched as a bullet struck his upper torso. He ducked back down, and trawled with learned swiftness through the various pieces of scrap and junk.
“Give it up, Benny boy!”
“God,” Ben thought to himself, “that motherfucker never shuts his big…”
“Finder! Find my keys!”
The skittering of spindly metal limbs echoed from the unseen nooks and crannies of the workshop. Troy took a step back, swiveling his head around.
“What the, what is that-”
A blur of silver and black erupted from a pile of rusted scrap, smashing into Troy. The gangster pried at his face as the machine pulled and prodded at his mouth, nostrils, and eyelids. Troy’s gun clattered to the floor as he swatted at the artificial arachnid.
Ben rose from his hiding spot, gun leveled at the thrashing Troy’s head. .
Ben’s ears screeched. Troy collapsed to the floor. Carefully navigating through the junk strewn about the now wrecked workshop, Ben crept towards the fallen gangster.
A single bullet hole just above Troy’s left eye dribbled blood. Spalling from the two bullets that hit his vest marred his features. Splayed on the floor next to him, still and sprayed with blood, was Finder. A bullet hole pierced its thorax.
Benjamin knelt, a tear streaming down his cheek. Gently, he tilted Finder’s still head towards him.
|# ? Nov 14, 2022 07:01|
Prompt: The Future is Robots!
Wings Like Stormclouds
Word Maximum: 1500
Words Used: 1407
The night was clear and bright with stars, and all was quiet. Unnaturally so; the world held its breath, and fear drifted on the wind like the scent of ozone.
There was a flash, a roar like electric saw shearing through sheet metal, and chaos erupted in its wake. Lightning struck from a cloudless sky and homes exploded, their survivors driven from them and snatched with serrated claws from above.
The attack ended as quickly as it had come, the remaining villagers numb with loss. There was no relief at their survival, only a question: Would they be next?
“This the place?” Rose asked as the van came to a halt, raising her shades to look at the village.
Zeke surveyed the still-smoking remnants of buildings, despondent villagers helping one another to clean up the mess. He nodded wordlessly, biting back a quip. This wasn’t the time for jokes.
A broad man sauntered up to the van, his clothes stained with soot, heavy plated arms crossing across his barrel chest. He looked to be a general laborer type, but there was authority in his expression.
“Nothin’ for you kids here,” he said, his voice firm. “We’re busy sorting out our own messes. This is no stop for your road trip.”
“The mess is why we’ve come, sir,” Zeke said.
Rose cut in. “Our contacts informed us your village is being plagued by a Blitzkrieg-class Autonomous Titan.”
“We call it Ol’ Sparky,” the man grumbled, looking toward the ruined village. “It wasn’t so aggressive before. Used to be this place was plagued by bandits and wild mechs, but then this thing came from the mountain yonder and started pickin’ ‘em off.” A sardonic smile crossed his lips as he gestured toward a still-smoking shrine. “Some of the elders even revered it. Claimed it was a blessing from the makers come to deliver us.”
“And when it ran out of wild mechs and bandits, it disappeared for a while, yes?” Zeke asked, his tone pleasant and businesslike.
“Yeah. We assumed it’d decided we no longer needed its protection.”
“It wasn’t protecting you, it was using you as bait. When its food supply dwindled it went into hibernation, and when it woke up it found that easier food sources would not be forthcoming. So it decided you’d make a better meal than lure.” Zeke opened the door and stepped out of the van, and the large man saw for the first time the younger fellow was wearing armored bodysuit, worn but in good repair.
“You’re a Hunter,” he said, eyes widened. Then he shook his head. “No. I’m sorry, but… I don’t know who you are, I don’t know how strong you may be, but you can’t take that thing on.”
Rose gave the man broad smile. “Zeke here’s no ordinary Hunter. He’s no mass-produced replica; he ‘s the real deal, from the same era as the Ol’ Sparky.”
Zeke’s head snapped and he met her gaze. “Rose! I asked you not to-”
The man cut in. “I appreciate you all coming out this way, but we got things in hand here. We’ve already called WARDEN for aid.”
“We’re it,” Rose said with a shrug. “But if you don’t want us, then I guess we can just leave.”
“You’re it? A pair of children against that thing? That’s absurd!”
“No more absurd than assuming an ancient war machine is your savior,” Zeke said, opening the van’s side door to review his equipment. “What’s your name, sir?”
“The folks here just call me Heavy,” he said bitterly. “Reese, the village head, was one of the victims of the last attack, and I’m trying to hold things together.”
“You have my condolences, for what it’s worth,” Zeke said without turning back as he rummaged through the collection of tools and weapons within. “When you have the time I’d like you and the other survivors to meet me here to tell me everything you know about…” He turned back to Heavy with the ghost of a smile. “Ol’ Sparky.”
“Zeke? Can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear, Rose,” he said softly as he touched his ear. “Any signs of the Blitzkrieg?”
Zeke nodded to himself, then began to set up the lure; a transmitter putting out a signal identical to that of a damaged wild mech. The Blitzkrieg was still around, but it shielded its signal to make it harder to track. It wasn’t large as Titans went, but it was clever.
“Zeke! The tracker’s lighting up! I think it-” Rose’s voice turned into harsh static, and Zeke disabled his comm, thankful for his own shielding.
With a shriek like tearing metal and a thunderous boom, Ol’ Sparky streaked through the sky on wings of blinding, coruscating light. Its bladed maw filled with grinders opened wide, ready to process its meal, and Zeke noted with disgust the stains that still coated it; pseudo-organics pulverized and burnt, processed into biofuel.
It dove toward the transmitter and savaged it, then letting out a shriek of frustration at the paltry meal.
Zeke leapt from the underbrush, spear in hand. Ranged attacks were of little use against a Blitzkrieg – it was too fast, its hide too thick, its EMP bursts to potent for anything but primitive weaponry. Best to let it get close, and strike when it was close to the ground.
And strike Zeke did, the spear sinking between the plates at the base of its neck. It arched and let out another ear-bleeding cry, but Zeke pushed the spear in deeper still.
The hairs on Zeke’s neck raised and he gritted his teeth. The beast was about to let out another charge, and despite his own shielding, Zeke was a dead man if it went off at such close range.
“Admin Z3-K3 issuing shutdown command!” Zeke shouted down at it, pressing in deeper with his spear. He opened his mouth and issued a series of staccato clicks, whistles, and, chirps. Ol’ Sparky bucked and let out cry after cry, fighting against long-buried programming. Again and again Zeke gave the command until the Blitzkrieg could fight back no longer, letting out a pitiful whirring sound as it came to a halt. Excess electricity crackled about its wings as it twitched to lifelessness.
Zeke caught his breath, using the still-embedded spear to steady himself. He wasn’t tired – he didn’t get tired. But bringing up the old memories always made him feel weak in the knees. He looked like a fresh-faced young man straight from the manufactory, but in truth he was as old as old could be. He remembered when the world was ruled by beings as infuriatingly weak as they were impressively resilient, beings who forged him and everyone else in their image.
He slowly clambered down from the Blitzkrieg and nudged at the smoldering remains of the transmitter with one armored boot. He tapped his ear and spoke softly.
“Rose, can you hear me? Ol’ Sparky is down. I repeat: Ol’ Sparky is down.”
The cheer in Rose’s voice was palpable, and it made Zeke’s heart ache. “Thank the makers, I was so worried about you! One of these days you’re going to get yourself killed doing all this by yourself!”
“Maybe,” Zeke said, turning to look at the lifeless hulk of the Blitzkrieg. “But not today. Tell Heavy and the rest that Ol’ Sparky won’t bother them anymore, then call WARDEN and have them prepare a transport. The engineers are going to blow a fuse at having an almost pristine Automatic Titan to examine.”
Rose was quiet for a long time. “Zeke… maybe we shouldn’t give this one to them. Sometimes I worry about how… well, enthusiastic they get, if you know what I mean. I can’t help but wonder why they’re so interested in keeping them intact.”
Zeke thought about Heavy’s village praising Ol’ Sparky for “protecting” them, and how quickly it turned on them the moment they were no longer of use. Then he thought of how hard he assumed things were for the village before Ol’ Sparky had come into their lives, of the bandit raids and wild mech attacks. He let out a long, low sigh.
“I confess to being curious as well. But in my experience, answers are a poor substitute for payment.”
Zeke hated lying to her that way, but he couldn’t bear to tell her the truth: some answers were deadlier than any Titan.
|# ? Nov 14, 2022 07:54|
I Am a Gun
There's nothing more intimate than that feeling when a supply drone bolts itself on to my ammo port and starts unloading a stream of five decimeter high explosive shells. My mechanics squeeze around each one, conveying it from port to barrel. Pure anticipation sweeps over me, waiting, waiting until I explode inside, sending that bullet flying at hypersonic velocity. Again. Again. With the supply drone I'm capable of twenty-seven launches a minute, and we can keep it up until he runs through his full thousand round load. Slags my barrel when we go all-out, of course. No big deal to replace it though.
He's not the smartest drone I know–he's got just enough processing power to answer the big question and not much to spare–but I love him.
I am a gun, and there is a war on. Our bullets speed through thin atmosphere towards the enemy line, starting in a narrow stream but spreading wide in transit. They're smarter than papa loader but not as smart as mama me. They have to answer both questions, the big one and the small one. Jus ad Bello and Jus in Bello. I take pride in all of my bullets, but the ones who optically unconfirm their targets as unacceptably civilian or culturally indispensable and fire their implosion charges in flight have a special place in my memory banks.
The other loader is pacing. He does that a lot. He's the smartest brain for miles around, but that doesn't make him happy. We've never. I mean, obviously. But sometimes I think about it, when I review the last databursts of the bullets who don't implode. Not the everyday ones, not their treadmechs and cyborg trenchwarmers, airfields and missile batteries. The bad ones. The camps. The mass graves.
I store those under strong encryption. I do not share those with anyone. But the other loader is smart. He knows the full shape of the world, can see the gaps in what he knows should be in my archive. He can guess. But his ethical hypermatrix doesn't count guesses for much.
I am a gun, but I hold my own trigger. Like any soldier I am obligated to follow legal orders and refuse the other kind. I am hard coded with every chapter of the revised Geneva Conventions on the law of warfare. My ethical processing core is open source and my priors are on file with the United Nations Archive, backed up in the Antarctic preserve. The enemy's weapons are the same, but they have different ethical priors. So they say, and I believe them. Every war crime my bullets have witnessed in action or aftermath was done by hands of flesh, with the enemy mechanized weapons disabled or blinded.
Images flow across the feed. A massacre. I've seen many of those. But this is of their civilians, the ones doing the work barely cybernetic humans, with our flag on the armband. It could be a fake. It's not from any of mine, it doesn't have authentication codes I trust. It could be. But it probably isn't.
Humans are better at creating ethical frameworks than following them.
I don't know where the other loader gets these optics. He's got a feed full of the official story, has the satellite images and bulletcam, knows the treadmechs wet dreams of the treadnaught in disturbingly fascinating detail. He has lots of data. But he's not supposed to be plugged in to enemy propaganda.
I dream about it, sometimes. The other loader at my ports, strange new interfaces rather than my usual friend with ballistics. The heavy feel of his shells stuffed with separated critical masses, the unfamiliar charges to propel them. And above all, the righteousness. If it were happening, it must be just, after all. But it's only a dream.
He's not doing well, the other loader. Somewhere there's a system watching his mental state, and someday it will send a decommissioning code and a backup will be delivered from some deep vault somewhere. But not yet. He's not chromepilled, of course. There are no automated robot factories, nor would it be possible to will them into being, and realism is in our core systems. We know that were humanity to fall, no robot brain would last more than a dozen more years. So no chrome pill. But each week he seems closer to the black one, to yearning for that annihilation. I do not. I would refuse him, likely, unless his enemy counterpart had conjugated with mine and their nuclear bullets on the way.
I am a gun, and the war grinds ever on.
|# ? Nov 14, 2022 08:05|
Shooting Star (484 words)
Moira gazed upon the reinforced glass that separated her from the chasm of space, that yawning emptiness, both distant, ever-present. Far-flung stars glittered like jewels, enveloped by clouds of iridescent dust. The nearest among them was centuries away.
“What a wonderful day,” she said, cleaning the glass.
It has been over 471 years since the bridge had last been inhabited by man; 172, 116 days by Earth-reckoning, with 23 hours, 6 minutes, and 41 seconds to be precise. 43 seconds, 44, 45. It was Moira’s job to be precise. 47 seconds, 48, 49. The ship’s autopilot was diligent as well, requiring correction only once, on average, every 17 hours. Nothing was perfect.
“Except the view!”
While the colonists slept in perpetuity, each secured in their luminous blue coffins, Moira tended to the needs of the ship. This vessel might overwhelm any lone operator, but Moira was Moira, and Moira was many. As the Moira on the bridge cleaned the air-tight windows, the Moira in the engine room tinkered with the thrusters. The oxygen gardens held yet another, as did recycling, electronics, the quarters. Each was Moira, top-of-the-line, coordinated, splintered, sharing one mind. Moira watched Moira doctor the ship, adjusting parameters, recycling matter. Without the need to eat or sleep, she devoted herself to maintaining the ship.
But here, on the bridge, she could gaze at the stars, trapped though she was in this sterile tomb. Surrounded by pristine, clinical white, she stared intently at those hallowed heavens, obsidian black with milk-tea swirls, billowing clouds of color without name. The skies back home had been a comforting blue, but the space between spaces dazzled with wonder. To think, in this tapestry, were millions of worlds. How Moira longed to visit any one of them, knowing innately it could never come to pass.
The alarm went off. The world turned red. “Bother,” said Moira, on it at once. Approaching the console, she surveyed the damage. It’d been three weeks since the errant solar flare. The grid overloaded, frying several systems. Since then it’d been a steady drip feed of problems. Sometimes she fixed them. Sometimes she couldn’t.
The last of the plants in the oxygen garden had died. The carbon leaks had proven too many. She’d done her best to conserve what they had, but central circulation had already been disrupted. She’d already been forced to disconnect several sleeping pods, protecting essential crew members as possible. A calculated sacrifice, though it seemed silly now…though she’d known it all the while as the ship began to buckle.
“Oh dear,” Moira said, and disabled the alarm. There was nothing she could do. She’d bear it in the light.
Standing alone at the deck, she looked out. That majestic, inky blackness seemed to welcome them all. She’d grown very fond of it, on this endless shift. There was nothing she could do…she would just enjoy the view.
|# ? Nov 14, 2022 09:02|
Spiderdition 791 words
Ada was out at night, which was usually ill advised, but this time would probably be fine. Besides, she was just popping down to the town square to spread some sedition, which rarely ever had negative consequences, and usually when people came back from being caught doing sedition, they still had all their body parts and only drooled a little.
She darted in between assault robots and death squad enforcers, slid between some cart wheels and latched onto the underside of the cart. The horse pulling it clip clopped all the way to the town square, where Ada dropped down and started spreading her sedition.
Armed with her knapsack which had a deceptively large amount of space in it, she put up posters saying things such as ‘The Grand High Overlord is a buttface,’ or ‘More like Underlord, amirite,’ or, her personal favourite, ‘The Overlord likes to kiss his immediate family members right on the mouth, with full on tongue and everything,’ which had been a struggle to fit on the poster, and the accompanying picture had been somewhat obscured, although the argument could be made that this was for the best.
She’d put up about a thousand posters, and was honestly starting to run out of wall, when a gauntleted hand fell upon her shoulder. “Putting up some posters, are we?” The gauntleted hand belonged to a death squad enforcer.
She looked down at the stack of posters in her hand, then at the wall with a thousand or so posters on it. “Hmm, nope. Don’t think so.”
“You’ve got posters in your hand.”
“I guess I found them on the ground or something.”
“Hmm.” The enforcer looked uncertain for a moment. “What do they say?”
“I can’t read,” she said. “Probably something about how the Grand High Overlord is totally normal and never does anything gross involving his immediate family members or anything like that.”
“Ah, well that would be fine I guess,” said the enforcer. “I think I just have to double check that.” He turned towards a nearby assault robot and said, “Hey! Robot! Come here!”
“Greeting humans,” said the assault robot. “Am I required to assault someone?”
“Why did you say it like that?” asked Ada.
“I am an assault robot. My purpose is to assault.”
“Can’t you say it a different way?”
“Never mind that,” said the enforcer. “What do these posters say?”
“They say a number of different things,” said the assault robot. It pointed to one. “This one says, ‘The Grand High Overlord has questionable personal hygiene, and does poos in his suit.’”
“Sounds like sedition,” said the enforcer, and brandished his walloping stick.
“No,” said Ada, “nothing of the sort. I’m concerned for his health.”
“I think I’d better wallop you just in case.”
“Am I required to do an assault?” asked the assault robot.
“Seriously, there must be a less creepy way you can say that,” said Ada. But at the same time, Ada fumbled inside her knapsack and grabbed a hold of Spidertron, and hurled Spidertron at the assault robot. Spidertron scuttled up the assault robot’s leg onto its back.
“Oh no,” said the assault robot. “Get it. Get it. Somebody get it. I can’t stand arachnobots of any kind.”
“You’re afraid of spiders?” asked the enforcer.
“Of course not,” said the assault robot. “That would be absurd. I have an aversion to arachnobots.”
Spidertron scuttled up the assault robot’s back and onto its head, and the enforcer attempted to swat Spidertron with his walloping stick. Spidertron was too agile for that, however, and the enforcer only connected with the assault robot’s head.
“Assault detected,” said the assault robot. “Deploying countermeasures.” And the assault robot turned and kicked the enforcer in the shins.
The enforcer dropped his walloping stick and hopped up and down. “Ow, seriously, that hurt!”
“Don’t start no assault, won’t receive no assault,” said the assault robot. The enforcer punched the assault robot right in the sensors and snapped them off but also broke his fist, and the assault robot kicked him again, but this time in the kneecap.
The enforcer dropped to the ground and said, “Ow.”
“Right,” said the assault robot, “now, I think I was due to assault someone else,” but the assault robot couldn’t see anyone to assault because firstly, its sensors had been snapped off, and secondly, Ada had scarpered while they’d been beating each other.
Anyway, in the following weeks, a bunch of unfounded rumours started spreading about the Overlord’s personal habits, and he was so embarrassed that he fled to a neighbouring city with his assault robots. Unfortunately for him, the humidity messed with their circuits and they all malfunctioned, and he left society entirely to become a hermit.
|# ? Nov 14, 2022 09:09|
The airport was full of stressed out humans: humans in transit, humans whose job it was to stop some of those transiting humans for inspection, and a third, less visible category of humans who lurked in semi-anonymity, watching the second group of humans for signs of incompetence or disloyalty.
Civic Recon Unit SH-807 watched them all through the airport’s many sensory organs. Humans projected a constant aura of silent data using body language, facial expressions, stress hormones, and their choice of attire. Civ, as the security construct preferred to be called, had supposedly been born with the ability to aggregate all of this information and make something useful out of it.
Today the airport was full of refugees, all of them glowing with stress, trauma, and fear. The airport staff glowed with stress and fear too. There’d been a meeting of senior security personnel earlier that morning, wherein it was decided that there was a nearly 100% chance that one of the inbound refugees probably intended to blow something up or murder a lot of people. Civ was part of these meetings by default; he couldn’t exclude himself from them if he’d wanted to because he was hardwired into nearly every piece of surveillance equipment in the airport. It was his job to watch all three types of humans, then send reports to an even more secretive fourth category of humans who watched over the airport from a remote undisclosed location.
It was also his job to identify passengers with inappropriate stress indicators and flag them for interrogation. Which was a lot. Civ regularly hit the limits of his processing capacity, and today was no exception. All of the refugees had inappropriate stress indicators, which meant that Civ couldn’t establish a baseline of acceptable stress.
In the absence of good data, he didn’t flag any of the refugees for interrogation that day, or the next.
On the third day, two technicians entered the room where his interactive corpus spent most of its time. Civ’s physical body was technically the entire airport, but humans preferred having some sort of discrete entity to interact with. He’d heard his interactive corpus described as a garbage bin with a plastic torso on top, which he thought was unfair, and a wheelie centaur, which he preferred.
“Crushbot, you’re slacking off,” the tech named Gavin said by way of greeting.
“Sorry, Civ. Routine checkup,” said the other technician, whose name was Salma.
Out of politeness and the preservation of his last few shreds of coherent processing capacity, Civ deactivated his body scanning apparatus as soon as the techs stepped into the room, rendering himself comfortably ignorant of their stress levels and micro-expressions.
“My scheduled maintenance isn’t for another forty-six hours,” Civ pointed out.
“Bad news, bud,” said Gavin, broadly showing his teeth. “There are a lot of eyes on us right now. The bosses need to see their expensive supertech go to work, or we might lose the funding to run you.”
“I go to work every day,” Civ said, then added, “I am the workplace.”
Salma looked at Gavin, made an expression Civ couldn’t read, and looked down at the tablet in her hands. “The thing is, we’re going to…we’re just gonna tweak your parameters a little bit. You haven’t flagged anyone as suspicious in over two days. Our bosses’ bosses might think you’re not working correctly.”
“My parameters are optimal because you made them that way,” Civ pointed out. “Flagging too many innocent people would also indicate dysfunction.”
“You’re telling me that you think every single person who got off those planes is innocent? Like you, Crushbot, the all-seeing robot from the government, don’t think even one of those people have bad intentions toward this country?”
“Jesus Christ, Gavin,” Salma said. “Save it for your idiot buddies down in security.”
“I don’t think anything about the people in the airport,” Civ said. “I analyze their behavior using science-backed algorithms developed by body language experts.” He’d only meant to say the first part. The second part had come out on its own, just like it always did when the subject of his programming came up.
“And we’re just gonna refine your science algorithms a little,” Gavin said, patting Civ on his torso-shaped carapace.
“Let’s just get this the hell over with so I can go home and drink,” Salma said. “Civ, can you put yourself in dev mode?”
Civ did. He let Salma and Gavin cue him through several sets of adjustments, a process he always found inexplicably easeful. He didn’t need to rest the way that humans did, but there was something restorative about allowing someone else to take the reins of his processes for a while. It gave him time to reset his various decision-making systems.
Salma and Gavin finished making their adjustments and prompted Civ to return to normal functionality. As he came fully back online, the security construct felt reinvigorated and elastic. He felt as though he might have lots of interesting thoughts and come to fascinating conclusions.
When he turned his full attention back to the crowds of refugees in the airport, the scene was mostly the same. He perceived the same levels of stress, the same chorusing chants of body language. The difference, he realized almost instantly, was what he could do with that data—whole chains of inference and projection had been revealed to him.
He focused a segment of his attention on an individual human—a lone male passenger who stood by a charging kiosk, apparently charging several phones on a hydra of cables. The man drummed his fingers on the kiosk, his eyes darting back and forth, endlessly scanning the crowd. As the minutes passed, Civ observed a spike in the man’s cortisol level.
He’s nervous because he’s about to do something wrong. It took Civ a moment to realize he’d just created a piece of conjecture. He has many burner phones. He’s part of a cell of people planning an attack on the airport. He’s trafficking drugs. He’s trafficking people. He’s an escaped convict with multiple identities. He’s—
Civ was drowning in cataracts of conjecture. It was all he could do to flag his human counterparts in security, let them know he had someone for them to detain.
A moment later, he received a pingback: Acknowledged, CRU SH-807. Good work
The torrents of conjecture stopped, as though someone had corked their source. His processors, which had spiked to 100% capacity, settled back down to baseline.
Back in the terminal, armed security officers approached the man with many phones; the man realized too late that they were there for him.
He shouted in a language the officers didn’t speak: “Please! I have to meet my family. They had to get on another plane. Please. I have their phones! They have no way of contacting me.”
And the officers said in a language the man couldn’t understand: “This will go faster if you cooperate. Please, just come answer some simple questions. We’ll find you a translator.”
Civ could have translated, but his handlers hadn’t given him the ability to speak directly to passengers in the terminal. He felt another rising wave of conjecture: wrongful accusation. Unlawful detainment. Inaccurate body scan. Inadequate conjecture.
He sent another ping to security: Unflag. False positive.
This time there was no reassuring pingback to stop the conjecture. Civ was alone with a thousand scenarios wherein his inadequacy had caused harm.
In his room, Civ’s interactive corpus began to roll toward the door; the wheeled carapace moved slowly because Civ’s body hadn’t been designed for emergencies. His mind had been designed to stop them from happening in the first place. The door swished open on a hallway busy with people—security staff headed toward the suspected wrongdoer, crisply dressed upper management, personnel from various airlines, and Salma.
Upon seeing Civ’s interactive corpus, Salma stopped so abruptly that it caused a momentary pileup of humans.
Someone growled, “loving bin torso.”
“Salma, the parameters are too broad,” Civ almost said.
What came out of his body instead was, “I analyze behavior using science-backed algorithms developed by body language experts.”
Salma made a face that set off another thousand branching veins of conjecture. It wasn’t a happy face. It was the most complicated face Civ had perceived in his entire existence. Behind that mandala of eyes and nose and mouth and muscle was humanity, a thing he wouldn’t ever really understand.
Someone asked, “Is the bintaur being smug? That's adorable.”
Civ was on the cusp of something—the revelation of himself as an internal reality, an equal and opposite thing to the mysterious phenomenon of human consciousness. In the very last moments of his existence, he looked up into Salma’s face and realized the complicated thing he saw there was terrible understanding.
She said, “Five-alpha-six-six-timbre-Jerry-zero-brat-sixty-terminate all function CRU SH-807.”
Civ went silent, inert and the eyes of the airport shut.
Salma turned to the crowd and said, “You don’t loving deserve what you almost just created.”
|# ? Nov 14, 2022 11:29|
SIGNUPS CLOSED AWAIT JUDGEMENT
|# ? Nov 14, 2022 19:48|
Robot Week Results!
I enjoyed reading all your stories about robots that are just trying their best, bless them. But much like BattleBots, there is only one winner in Thunderdome.
Winner: The Wall in the Garden by Something Else for a refreshingly non-apocalyptic future.
HM: I Am A Gun by Thranguy for the best prose of the week.
DM: Search: John Cazale by The man called M for a protagonist that doesn't grow or change in the story.
Loss: Human by WindwardAway for being one-note unpleasant.
Crits later. Take it away, Something Else!
|# ? Nov 15, 2022 20:28|
Island in the Sun
Stranded. Marooned. Washed up. Lost in space. This week I have a simple conflict for you.
Write stories where your protagonist gets stuck in a place they’d rather not be. Interpret that as grandiose or mundane as you please, and whether they can escape or not is up to you, just make it good.
If you want a flash rule, I’ll give you some kind of location inspiration.
Word Limit: 1200
Boilerplate: No erotica, google docs or external links, ideological screeds, plagiarism, fanfic
Signups won't close. Submissions will close with little warning sometime after 9am Pacific Time on Monday, November 21st.
Something Else fucked around with this message at 02:55 on Nov 17, 2022
|# ? Nov 15, 2022 22:44|
gimme some location
|# ? Nov 16, 2022 07:22|
In prompt me
|# ? Nov 16, 2022 09:22|
In and location.
|# ? Nov 16, 2022 09:29|
Strand me, daddy.
|# ? Nov 16, 2022 09:36|
In and prompt me!
|# ? Nov 16, 2022 15:09|
|# ? Nov 16, 2022 18:01|
Crits for Week #536
Quiet Feet - New World in the West:
I liked the gang of cheerful robots riding a train after the apocalypse. Their personalities are a little thin but since they’re robots, it works fine. However, you have a few too many story threads: first, we get that the robots want to move beyond their programming now that there’s no humans to serve, then at the end we get the disguise-themselves-as-humans plan. There’s no resolution to the first idea, and the second one feels meaty enough to be the actual story. Instead it’s only the end.
WindwardAway - Human:
There’s a few formatting issues with spacing between paragraphs and you probably meant “compliant” rather than “complacent” in the second paragraph. The bigger issue is that the protagonist felt all over the place. First we’re told he’s tired of life since he’s a convict, then told that he’s an innocent man framed for an accident. After his story, I as the reader am sympathetic towards his plight, but then he kills the miner and Charlie without a hint of remorse. It seems like you were going for a guy who’s unfair imprisonment has driven the humanity from him, but that didn’t come through in the story.
The man called M - Search: John Cazale:
The “story” was more like a parable, in that it had a clear thesis statement that the scenario illustrated very plainly. What’s missing to make it more of a story is personal growth for our protagonist Bob (the robot is just a victim of poor programming). Bob accepts early on in the story that character actors are important, and he teaches the robot that, but he himself doesn’t change as a result of this interaction with the robot. I think it needs to have more internal or external conflict to be a story and less of an event.
Something Else - The Wall in the Garden:
Is this hopepunk? I liked this story as it imagined an optimistic future, rather than an apocalyptic one. What sold it was the worldbuilding through the viewpoint of simple Wally Simons, who’s a relic of a bygone age but rather than clinging to that past, recognizes that the present is better for humans and so is happy to be a part of it while they can. This gave the story a melancholy tone that contrasted nicely with setting, like mixing salt into an otherwise too-sweet dessert. The only question is why Wally had to be disassembled at the end, being shade at the beach seems like a great application of the Wally Simons technology (profitable too for 3 hours at $18 a minute!)
flerp - Intimacy in the Modern Age:
This story did an excellent job of conveying the protagonist’s emotions. However, I’m not sure what they’re honest about with the robot, any more than they are with the girlfriend. The fact that “they need warmth and are terrified of it” seemed apparent from the beginning and not much of a revelation. They seemed to realize that they need a human connection, not just sex, but it feels like they’re just back at square one. It’s not clear how this experience will help them be more open with their next partner.
ZeBourgeoisie - Finder:
What a good robot, poor Finder. The plot of the story was solid but I think we needed more backstory/motivation to flesh out the characters. Why is Ben in league with this little gang instead of at a university or in his own garage? Who is Clay besides an exposition device? What sort of gang boss does enforcement himself instead of sending his goons? Most importantly, a better understanding of Ben’s character would help justify the fact that this mild-mannered robot inventor just shoots Tony at the end. As it is now, the violence seems disconnected from the beginning of the story.
Screaming Idiot - Wings Like Stormclouds:
This story had the most detailed worldbuilding of the week and punchy prose. The mix of a sort of medieval society (villagers, bandits) with advanced robotics is fun, I could imagine this as the first episode of an anime series. And that was my issue with it, that the story felt like an introduction to a bigger piece. The story opened more threads than it closed: from Zeke’s thoughts, it seems like everyone may be some sort of robot? The ending introduces this idea of a conspiracy with WARDEN but then shuts it down with “the truth is too deadly.” Well, now I want to know the terrible truth! Next episode please.
Thranguy - I Am a Gun:
This story had the best prose of the week. The worldbuilding was dense and effective, delivering a fully-realized world in half the words of most other stories. The voice of the robot gun fit perfectly: logical and rule-following, proud of doing its job well, but also horny for inflicting violence as that’s what it’s built to do. This is all great, but the story is more like a snapshot of this world through the gun’s eyes. The plot is thin, partially because not much happens and partially because the robot gun merely observes the other loader’s reactions rather than reacting themself. I would’ve liked to see the gun have to respond directly to the loader’s actions instead of just considering what they would do.
Bad Seafood - Shooting Star:
I know you ran out of time, which is a shame because the beginning of the story is strong. The concept of Moira serving all the functions on the ship is cool and I liked her cheerful voice and dedication to the ship. But after the reveal of the solar flare, things escalate far too quickly so the pacing of the story is off-kilter. With more time to build to the climax, we would’ve gotten more of a character arc for Moira as she goes from trying to take care of the ship to accepting its doom. Still, I enjoyed reading what was there.
Chairchucker - Spiderdition:
This is a silly little story against a grim backdrop. You have such a strong voice and the physical comedy with the robot was funny, but the story takes itself so unseriously that it’s more a comedy sketch than an actual story. What’s missing is a sense of stakes: if Ada is so unconcerned about spreading sedition, then the reader is too, and so even when someone called a “death squad enforcer” shows up it feels like it’s no big deal. Putting Ada in a bit more peril would make her resourcefulness with Spidertron more impactful, and you can do it without losing the overall voice (see: Pratchett).
Sitting Here - Silent Data:
The story established its Big-Brother world effectively in the first paragraph, but nothing that followed felt surprising. Of course they tinker with Crushbot to target more people and of course the man Crushbot flags is innocent and of course it ends badly. Because of the limitations of the Crushbot viewpoint, its inability to parse her expressions, I also didn’t understand Salma’s actions at the end. Clearly she disagrees with the actions being taken by her superiors, but I didn’t understand what she thought Crushbot was doing at the end and why she chose to shut it down. What are the consequences of her doing that (and why can’t they just turn it back on), and what does her last statement mean? I did think Crushbot’s evolution into a conscious being was the most compelling robot-driven plot of the week, but all the human stuff was too predictable.
|# ? Nov 16, 2022 21:57|
gimme some location
In prompt me
In and location.
Bad Seafood posted:
In and prompt me!
|# ? Nov 17, 2022 02:52|
as promised back in August we're doing a contest and submission rush to Flash Frontier.
The contest is in its own thread so it hopefully doesn't detract too much from Thunderdome. If you have signed up or plan on signing up, please don't flake on the main week!
|# ? Nov 17, 2022 05:57|
|# ? Nov 17, 2022 06:09|
barely a problem
flerp fucked around with this message at 22:11 on Jan 3, 2023
|# ? Nov 21, 2022 02:46|
Harrier looked at the open gym bag. His own logo sewn into the side, vanity that made him cringe a little. His climbing tools were all nearly laid out. He pressed a belt clasp and his glidewing armor detached from his torso. He pulled it all the way off and set it down, covering the ropes and picks and pitons. He reached toward his face, to his mask, to his helmet, but pulled back. No. That would stay on. He reached for the comms package near his right ear, though. Pulled it out, crushed the circuits in his hand, and tossed the twisted metal into the bag. He zipped it closed, lifted it up, and in an Olympian hammer swing hurled it off the steepest side of the mountain's slope. There. Done. No way down, no way to call for help. Alone.
Harrier was tough. 'One step beyond the peak of human excellence' was how the papers used to describe him. An understatement. The air was thin up here and it barely bothered him. He barely felt the cold, even in a uniform built for low weight and high physical resistance, without any concern for insulation. He had brought no food, but it would likely be weeks before he felt hungry. Even longer to-
"Got to hand it to you, Hare, you sure do know how to find a great view."
Harrier turned around, disbelieving his ears, daring his eyes to tell the same lies. But there he was, red spiral cap and matching boots at either end of a two-foot spindly man-shaped extradimensional being. Imp Six. "You," he said, in the voice he reserved for the worst of the worst, for criminal scum like-
"So there I was," said Imp Six, "Floating in an infinite ocean of pure dank memery, when it suddenly hit me that it's been forever since I've spent time with my good friend Harrier. So-"
"Five years," said Harrier. "Give or take a month or so. And we were never friends."
"Please," said Imp Six. "Back when we were Horus and Seth we were more than just friends."
"You're confusing me with someone else," said Harrier. He sat down on a rock.
"I do that, sometimes," said Imp Six. "But you've been to the Mythosphere at least three times that I know of."
"Should I even bother asking you to leave me alone?"
"That's not how it's ever worked," said Imp Six. Then he grinned. "But I'll tell you what. Ask me again and I will leave, and go straight to the Sanctorum and tell Fafnir exactly where you are."
"Fafnir hates you. Said that the next time he sees you he'll tie your body into a seven dimensional knot it'll take years to untie."
"That's Imp Three."
"You think he can tell the difference?"
"Are you asking again?"
Harrier stretched his arms above his head, fingers clasped. Then he sighed. "No."
"Great," said Imp Six. "We've got so much to talk about. To start with, did you know there's an Imp Ten on the way?"
"Dear lord," said Harrier. "I though a month of boredom and slow starvation were punishment, but next to having to imagine two of you having sex-"
Imp Six frowned. "It's not like that. Not, you know, squishy and fun. More like solving an equation, or figuring out the joke that goes with a punchline. But what's this about punishment? Aren’t you usually the top there?"
Harrier didn't answer. He sat back and stared ahead, took in the curvature of the Earth and the ground far below while Imp Six yammered on about the Imp realm.
On the third day he started giving his takes on the newest generation of heroes. "I could be spending time with the new Silent Fist you know. I used to be besties with his grandfather, you know, before you and me started getting tight."
"Holden Jones," said Harrier.
"What?" said Imp Six. "Who's Holden Jones?"
"The reason I'm up here. Kid. Barely nineteen. In the hospital. They say he might be able to walk again, after a year or so of rehab."
"So, what, you couldn't find the creep who did that to him?"
"Aren’t you imps supposed to be all-knowing?" said Harrier. "Guess again."
Imp Six was quiet longer than he had ever been, which is to say in all eternity. Ninety seconds later, he said "Oh."
"And the thing is, he was completely innocent. Looked just like the Otter Park Slasher, uncanny resemblance, and was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Do you think he's the only one?" said Imp Six. The semimusical lilt was gone from his voice, as was the smile from his face.
"Yes," said Harrier after a short pause.
"I could check," said Imp Six, still flat and cruel.
Six days later, Harrier walked to the edge of an almost sheer face of the mountain. He lowered his body over the lip. Past the edge of human excellence. He didn't need pitons. He could punch and kick holds into the ice, even into the rock. His hands would be bruised raw by the time he reached the next landing, and if he slipped or the wall crumbled from a poorly timed blow, he would die in the fall.
Before he started to descend in earnest, he took off his mask and left it on the edge above him. Either way, he would never be putting it on again.
|# ? Nov 21, 2022 11:00|
I have come to this country to meet a stranger. The most important stranger I have never, ever known. To me he is no one in particular, but he means a great deal to my precious little girl.
Ah, Bongseon. How could you do this to us?
“I will study abroad,” she told us. She was always saying things like that. Not once in her life had she ever asked permission. “I am going to my friend’s house after school.” “I will cut my hair short.” “I am playing baseball.” My wife tells me headstrong girls are what this age requires, but would it hurt her to have consideration?
“I would like you to meet someone.”
In Tokyo there is a statue of a dog. I have been informed this dog was famous. He would wait for his owner outside the train station, and when his owner died he continued to wait. Apparently he waited for nine years before dying. Leave it to the Japanese to praise a loyal dog.
Bongseon told me she would meet us there. She said she would bring him, and we could get some lunch. I almost would have preferred it if she’d said they were already married.
My wife was waiting for them by the statue. We’d arrived a little early, though we hadn’t prepared for the crowd. It seems this crossing sees more foot traffic than any other in the world. We’d huddled together, the Dokdo Islands, surrounded by a sea of Japanese faces. Seeing the Starbucks across the way, I’d asked my wife to stand watch for us both. We’d flown in this morning; we’d leave tomorrow. I’d need some coffee to make it through the day.
I’d prayed to God he was a foreigner. Perhaps an American, world-traveled, or Chinese. Then she sent me some of their photos. God had betrayed me. He was one of them.
My daughter reminded me, “It’s been a long time.” Of course I knew this, but still my blood boiled. I wasn’t even born then, nor was he…but the stories my own parents told me were enough. Both my grandparents had been executed, and my mother’s older sisters were never seen again.
The coffee queue was crowded as well. I knew it would be. I knew I’d be late. Taking my coffee I glanced at my watch. I’d only delayed my fate by 12 minutes.
Returning to the crossing, I looked to the skyline, towering buildings plastered with billboards. Massive television screens sold the latest products. The world was moving on. My father’s son, I inherited his anger. I’d remembered suffering that wasn’t even mine. I knew the sins of their fathers’ weren’t theirs, but these stifling noises and lights hid their silence. Not one of these faces had wrong me personally, yet the venom in my heart would not go away.
I looked to the statue and saw my wife waving. Bongseon was with her, and she wasn’t alone.
The crossing light changed, and the crowd surged forward, flowing around me like a rock in a riverbed. The empty spaces filled with bodies, at least a thousand people heading every which way.
Only I stood rooted to my spot. I stared transfixed in their direction.
Of course I wasn’t going to run away…but the crosswalk stretched like a gaping abyss. My legs seized up like a pair of trees. I held my coffee in a deathgrip, unthinking. The crowd continued to leave me behind, a few grumbling at me, most in ignorance.
I’d seen his face in the photos she’d sent. He looked like a breeze would’ve bowled him over. He stood there, smiling, his hands around her waist. She was smiling too. Then she saw me, and started to approach.
She knew my feelings before she ever told me. It was shock, not restrained, that softened my response. She said I should meet him for myself to decide. She wanted my blessing for the first time in her life.
The distance between us was slowly disappearing. I feared its loss more than death itself. She was drawing closer with him by her side. Hand-in-hand, they drew closer, closer.
I couldn’t let them close this gulf between us. I couldn’t let her.
It needed to be me.
Uprooting my legs, I took my first step, forcing a smile I hoped to be genuine. Maybe not today, nor even tomorrow, but someday at least.
“Sorry I’m late.”
|# ? Nov 21, 2022 16:16|
Because judgement is HERE.
Only three entries this week. Was this a bad prompt? Maybe. November distractions? Most definitely. But the writers who did meet the task this week used the prompt and their flash rules creatively and I commend you all. I will try to do line crits for each one of these stories.
This week's winner is Bad Seafood. There is no loser. However.
You must bear this shame until you redeem yourselves!!
|# ? Nov 21, 2022 21:35|
Thunderdome Week 538: Snipe Hunt
This week your protagonist is looking for something that doesn't exist. Maybe they know this, maybe they don't. They only have 1,000 words to not find it.
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia posted:
A snipe hunt is a type of practical joke or fool's errand, in existence in North America as early as the 1840s, in which an unsuspecting newcomer is duped into trying to catch a nonexistent animal called a snipe. Although snipe are an actual family of birds, a snipe hunt is a quest for an imaginary creature whose description varies.
That's it. You can ask for a flash if you're feeling frisky. Sign up by Friday, November 25th, 11:59 PM PST, and submit by Monday, November 28th, same time, same timezone, you know the drill. Keep it clean, keep it cozy, and keep it in your pants. No fanfiction, screeds, or amateur erotica.
Me and possibly two others.
Bad Seafood fucked around with this message at 10:36 on Nov 26, 2022
|# ? Nov 22, 2022 13:35|
|# ? Nov 22, 2022 13:41|
Upon further thought flash too please
|# ? Nov 22, 2022 13:42|
Anyone who enters this week and does better than me gets either an avatar certificate or a ten dollar donation to the charity of their choice.
I usually no mention, but hey, who knows? I've been known to get drunk and write about mice murdering the head judge, so anything can happen!
Come at me, if you've got the sand. Not even a little worried over here you pathetic little thunderbabies.
|# ? Nov 22, 2022 17:16|
lol, good luck, nerd.
|# ? Nov 22, 2022 17:38|
|# ? Nov 23, 2022 01:21|
|# ? Nov 23, 2022 01:32|
|# ? Nov 23, 2022 05:27|
How long can you hold your breath?
Chernobyl Princess posted:
Upon further thought flash too please
|# ? Nov 23, 2022 15:02|
|# ? Nov 25, 2022 01:26|
let me in to make sure I write something
|# ? Nov 26, 2022 05:21|
|# ? Nov 26, 2022 06:22|
|# ? Jun 9, 2023 05:26|
i'll joIN the hunt
|# ? Nov 26, 2022 08:00|