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My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

In, prompt please!


My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

922 words
"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.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012


My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

The House of Everything
1195 words
Prompt: packrat, endless pockets, can improvise their way out of anything

Marcel woke up in a shrine. Every surface of the rambling house had one of Sahar’s devices or some token of their adventures, when they sought out materials with rare magical properties for her inventions. The walls were hung with pictures of them and the closets were still full of her clothes. The collection of their lives together kept those long-ago days fresh in his mind. It didn’t make him happy, though. After ten years without her, grief was a habit.

Marcel dressed slowly and pulled on his alchemist’s coat. Each of its many pockets held his most valued treasures: a spherical ruby, a joke gadget she’d made just for him, their wedding rings. From one he removed a delicate wire prototype and spun its tiny gears. It had been Sahar’s last and most important invention; he’d tried to finish it, but he knew he couldn’t. He’d contributed his research to many of her other inventions, but this one was all her.

He sighed and tucked it away. He was about to continue his routine when, far below on the ground floor, the doorbell rang.

Well, he was going that way anyway, but now he needed to be quicker than his usual limp down the stairs. The problem-solving part of his brain, the one that had gotten them out of countless scrapes during their adventures, kicked in. He ripped open a pillow and grabbed a handful of feathers. Alchemically, feathers wanted to fly. He used this potential to amplify his atrophied magical power and hover down the stairs to the door.

“Hello, Marcel!” It was Ned, his neighbor. “This young lady came round to my place looking for you, so I thought I’d walk her over, see how you’re doing.” Ned lived in a prominent tower across the lake and up the hill from his house; lost visitors often ended up there.

“Dr. Marcel? Hi, I’m Beatrice, a graduate artificer at the Academy of Magical Sciences. I’ve been researching Dr. Sahar’s work, can I ask you a few questions?” Her enthusiasm was already exhausting.

He nodded to Ned, then led Beatrice into the sitting room. Her eyes went wide, taking in all the trophies that filled the space, from a large stone statue to the taxidermied griffin. He was pleased that she didn’t touch anything.

“What can I do for you, Beatrice?” Marcel’s voice was hoarse with disuse.

“I’ve been studying Dr. Sahar’s later notebooks and I came across a mention of a device capable of storing pure magic. Some think it’s just an idea she had, but I wanted to come here to see if there’s any possibility of it being real.”

She waited expectantly as Marcel pulled out the delicate object and put it on the table between them.

“It’s real, but unfinished.”

Beatrice leaned down so that her nose almost touched it. “It’s so small!” Her eyes shone with academic excitement. “With your permission, I’d love to take this and continue her work. The potential of such a device … it would change the world.”

Marcel knew this day would come, knew that someone would come to continue her work, and yet he snatched the object away protectively. If he let it go with Beatrice, he’d never see it again. He spun the gears that she made, ran his fingers down the wire she’d shaped. But Beatrice was right, it would revolutionize everything: no longer would pyromancers have to stoke factory fires, or farmers exhaust themselves magically fertilizing their crops. With a battery of energy, their own magical potential would be freed to be spent as they pleased. It would be Sahar’s greatest legacy.

Plus, the entire house was full of objects that were no less her. With a heavy heart, he opened his hand and gave the device to Beatrice. “Do good with this,” he said.

Beatrice cradled it in her hands. “I will,” she said solemnly.

Before she could ask anything else, Marcel showed her to the door. The heavy oak closed behind her and the device was gone. He looked around and saw Sahar in every painting, every crystal, every book piled haphazardly in every corner. He imagined that she could see him too.

He quickly regretted his decision. The pocket of his jacket felt wrongly empty. In the laboratory, her tools looked as sad as orphans. In the kitchen, he saw her stained cookbooks and felt the weight of each meal they’d shared. On the walls, her face looked at him in dozens of photographs. Marcel climbed the stairs to escape her memory, but all around him, reminders of the last sixty years of his life loomed. He retreated to his office to think.

Beatrice wouldn’t be the last one. As a former academic and treasure hunter, he knew that, once word got out about Sahar’s device, there would be a flood of people coming to the house, asking for her prototypes, her notes, anything that would give insight into her genius. He could live with her presence, but he couldn’t live with her being exhumed, examined, and taken from him over and over again.

The only solution he could see was to burn her notes. Slowly he collected them into a metal wastebasket. He tried to call his magic but he didn’t have the intensity to summon fire. Angrily brushing away tears, he rummaged in the desk. The drawers spilled forth endless paper and a forgotten pair of glasses. He cast light through a lens with one hand and held a piece of paper at the focal point with the other. Alchemically, paper wanted to be on fire. He tossed the now-burning page onto the pile of notes. But the fire got out of hand. It spread hungrily to the bookshelves, wall hangings, and ceiling beams. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t stop it. All he could do was summon a wavering shield and listen to the house burn. Years of things, each a memory, disintegrated in the crackle and roar of flames. His tears, mingling with the smoke, stung his eyes.

Marcel intended to crumble along with the house, but a wet explosion shocked him back to life. He spluttered as water crashed through the ceiling and chased the fire along the beams, creating plumes of thick smoke. When both fire and water had faded away, Marcel heard a voice from above him.

“You okay?” It was Ned, hovering above the house, an orb of water hovering alongside him. “Sorry for throwing the lake through your roof, but I saw the flames and feared the worst. You’ve got so many things in there!”

Marcel stood up and looked at the ruins. He feared it would be like seeing Sahar’s corpse, but no. It was just a pile of charred, soggy stuff. His jacket was singed, but when he pulled out a delicate letter, it was untouched by the elements. He carefully replaced it and felt, with new clarity, the warmth of her love.

“Do you want to stay with me for a while?” Ned was still hovering above him. With little effort, Marcel rose into the air alongside him.

“You’re a good neighbor, thank you.”

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

I'm in!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Call of the Wild (abridged)
793 words

The frozen lake of the playroom stretched out in front of Beige, the gray wolf. Behind him, the members of his sled dog team stood in their harnesses, waiting for the command of their fearless leader. Neither Slipper, the cocker spaniel who held a red shoe in her mouth, or Nanook, the small polar bear, said much, but– Beige abruptly fell over. Getting up, he glared at the team’s clown, a chubby Dalmatian named Lucky.

“Look what I can do!” Lucky was bouncing on his thick bottom, tossing around the rest of the team as he did so as he was twice the size of the other dogs.

“Stop that,” Beige said irritably. “We’re playing sled dogs, not circus.”

Lucky laid on his belly. “Sorry.”

Satisfied that the team was under control, Beige called, “Mush!” They surged forward haphazardly, each dog pulling according to their ability. Beige, as the oldest, steered the boxy sled, but Lucky contributed much of the pulling power, dragging along the smaller dogs. They howled joyfully as their soft paws slid across the hardwood floor.

Suddenly– “Oh no,” said Beige, “the ice cracked and the sled is falling in!” He ordered the team to hold still as he circled back to determine how to extract the sinking sled. Before he could do so, he fell over again. Lucky had started bouncing, and without his weight holding the sled up, the whole team was dragged backwards. Slipper fell in the water, Nanook close behind her.

“Hold the sled, Lucky!” Beige shouted, but it was too late. With no traction on his bottom, he slid into the water as well. His fat paws gripped the edge of the ice as he whined from the cold.

It was all down to Beige. Heroically, he pulled the entire team and the sled out of the lake.

“I saved you all this time, but sled dogs need to work as a team,” Beige said to Lucky. “That means no bouncing.”

Lucky promised to be on his best behavior as the dogs headed into the pine forest. Thick snow carpeted the ground and the trees were clustered in groups of four, so they couldn’t run as fast. Still, Beige jerked to a halt as the sled caught on a chair and overturned, the entire team ending up in a pile.

“Lucky, you started bouncing again!”

Lucky covered his eyes with his floppy ears. “I just like bouncing.”

“But look, the sled crashed. Now we’ve got to untangle everyone.” Beige set to work straightening out Slipper and Nanook, whose harnesses had wrapped around each other. Lucky made a few furtive bounces while he waited, much to the frustration of Beige.

Their arguing attracted the attention of a yeti. It toddled over, idly smashing two cars together. Beige and Lucky both looked up, alarmed, but they knew how to deal with it. As the yeti started reaching for Nanook, they yelled in unison, “Go away!” Beige made a threatening wolf growl while Lucky barked as loud as he could. The yeti was more perplexed than scared, but it wandered off nevertheless.

“Let’s go,” Beige said once the danger was past. Lucky bounced sulkily in place. “Come on,” Beige pleaded. “Mush!”

That magic word got Lucky moving, and the dogs kept running. Beige was so distracted by Lucky’s mutinous attitude that he almost led them off a cliff. He ground to a stop, the rest of the team and sled sliding into his back.

“This cliff is too steep, we’ll have to go around,” Beige said with authority. He started to pull but didn’t go anywhere: Lucky was sitting down in his harness.

“I’m going to bounce down,” he said.

“No, that’s stupid,” Beige said automatically.

“No it’s not!” Lucky insisted. “Look.” Pulling the sled to the edge of the cliff, he bounced down a step, then another.

“The sled can’t go down,” Beige said doubtfully.

“Yeah, watch!” With the next hop down, the sled slid off the edge of the cliff. The box tumbled down the stairs, its contents and the dogs flying everywhere.

“I can bounce back up too!” Lucky said, dragging the sled as he hopped from step to step.

Beige paused. On one hand, Lucky wasn’t playing sled dogs right. On the other hand, he wanted to see the sled fall down the cliff again.

“Good work, Lucky!” he said. “You discovered a way for us to traverse the cliff.”

Lucky beamed. “Do you want to go down it again?”

“Yeah!” said Beige enthusiastically. They went up and down the stairs, laughing, until they got tired. Beige sorted out the other dogs then stood at the front, Lucky standing proudly behind him.

“Mush!” Beige cried, and the dogs ran on to their next adventure.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

derp posted:

"Yes, yes! Of course! Kill Tunderdome! It's genius!" said Spaceman Jeff. "Why did I never think of it!?"

Spacewoman Kim was zipping through the vast gulfs between stars, rocking out to her favorite Glorblaxian* screech-rock album, when spacetime itself ripped apart. She brought her ship to a halt, staring agape at the kaleidoscopic madness that now divided her universe. Garbled reactions like “Why? How? AHHH!” cycled through her mind until it landed on a coherent thought: “poo poo, my home planet is on the other side.”

She sat for a few more moments processing this, the shrieking of Gorblaxians echoing through the cockpit, when another spaceship blasted past, seemingly out of the rift. It came so close to hers that it left a scorched streak across her viewport. First the universe splitting apart, now this? She’d just gotten it cleaned! Now Kim was angry.

Punching her dashboard, she opened a close-range communication line. “Hey dickface, space not big enough for you?” she yelled into the microphone. The other ship didn’t acknowledge. Rude! Kim set off in pursuit, shouting invectives into the open comm line. She knew neither her mom nor her therapist would approve of her actions, but she had to blame someone for the nightmarish abyss of color currently dividing her universe, and this bad pilot was as good a target as any.

The other ship didn’t even slow down until Kim flew straight overhead, inverted so that she could flip them off. The two men inside looked up in mild surprise, then finally connected to the comm line.

“Greetings, ma’am. We’re the Spaceman Duo from–”

“I don’t give a gently caress. Did you do that?” Kim pointed to the rift.

“Oh, that? Yes,” said the one with “Jim” embroidered on his jumpsuit. “Tell me, did it kill Thunderdome?”

Kim remembered her training and took some deep, calming breaths. “I don’t know, what the hell is Thunderdome?”

“It’s a writing competition that fuels our eternal torment. The mayor of Glorbtown said it could be found in this universe.”

“Never heard of it, do I look like a nerd to you?”

“Ah. Well, what about the planet of Ee-ar-th?” Spaceman Jim stretched out the pronunciation like he’d only ever seen the word written down.

“That’s my home planet, currently sitting on the other side of that abomination.”

“Oh cripey,” said the other Spaceman. “That is a problem.”

“Yes, it’s your problem,” Kim growled. “You’re gonna find a way to get over there and you’re gonna take me with you. What you do to the Thundersphere or whatever when we get to Earth is your business.”

“You have a deal, Spacegal …?”

“That’s Spacewoman Kim to you,” she said. “Let’s go.” Flipping her ship around, she pointed the nose at the mawing riot of color standing between her and her planet, then hit the thrusters.

*In this universe, Gorblaxians evolved to live in the same shell-like structures but communicate not through a single mind, but by shouting really loudly at each other.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

In with all 3 please!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Jessi & Jerome in the Clay Dog Conundrum
1575 words
Plucky teen detectives trapped in a commune of reclusive artists must kill the correct dog.

Jerome ended the call and looked at Jessi, who was pacing around the pottery-laden shelves of the Eco Village Artist Collective’s gift shop. “My dad’s going to come get us after work,” he told her. He shook his head anxiously. “I can’t believe the bus left without us. We even told Mrs. Jones that we were going back to the cafeteria to look for Audra’s ring.”

Jessi, hands shoved in the pockets of her varsity jacket, shot Jerome an incredulous look. “No, this is great! We’ve got an hour to find the ring and save the day!”

As usual, her confidence calmed him. “Save the day for you, you mean,” Jerome teased. He and Jessi had been best friends and detective partners for years, and he knew finding the ring meant a lot to her.

Jessi blushed. “Yeah. It’s my chance to ask Audra out when we give it back to her.” Audra was the only person that the gregarious Jessi was seemingly unable to talk to.

“With a ring? That’s presumptuous.”

Jessi punched his arm. “You’re presumptuous. Now, let’s go over the events to see where we should search next.”

Jerome pulled out his notebook. Though he liked to think of himself as the clever Sherlock Holmes of the pair, he suspected he was actually the Watson.

“Audra said Billy took the ring while she was washing her hands after lunch,” he read. This was no surprise, Billy had become even more of an rear end in a top hat to Audra ever since she came out. “And after lunch, we visited the gallery, then made those dogs at the pottery center.”

“I think we can rule out the gallery, not a lot of places to hide it there. So we’ve gotta go to the pottery barn.”

“They specifically called it a center,” Jerome said. He braced for Jessi’s snide comment about his pedantry, but she was already out the door. Her decisiveness often caught him off-guard.

He hurried to catch up to Jessi, who was power-walking down the dusty paths of the self-sustaining community. “How do you know Billy doesn’t still have the ring?” he asked as they passed the organic garden.

“I texted James.” They’d helped James locate his misplaced football gear several weeks ago. “He’s friends with Billy and he said that Billy genuinely doesn’t have it.” She bit her lip. “We’ve gotta find it. Audra’s pretty upset, the ring was her mom’s.”

“James couldn’t persuade Billy to tell him where it is?” Jerome asked rhetorically.

Jessi shook her head. “All Billy would say is that she’d get it back eventually.”

“How uncharacteristically cryptic of him.”

They arrived at the pottery center in the converted barn. Jerome was startled when he noticed an artist sitting in a corner, throwing pots on a wheel, but the man ignored them. Jessi ignored him too. She charged in and started investigating every surface, lifting up clay-covered tools and molds. Jerome began to help her but his heart was sinking. The center was gigantic and every table and wall was piled high with pottery and pottery paraphernalia. He wasn’t sure they’d be able to search the place in two days, let alone two hours.

Jessi came to the same conclusion. “This is going to take ages,” she moaned. “Plus, we would’ve noticed Billy messing around in a corner.”

Jerome stared into the eyes of the bust he was holding and an idea sparked. “There’s a Sherlock Holmes story just like this! A guy hides a pearl inside plaster busts of Napoleon. Maybe Billy just put the ring inside the clay dogs we made.”

“Yes!” Jessi rushed over to the large tray of brick-sized dogs of varying quality. “How did Holmes figure out which one had the pearl?”

Jerome googled the story. “Oh. He broke all of them.”

Jessi rolled up the sleeves of her jacket, but a voice behind them said, “Those are not yours to destroy.” It was the artist, still spinning the wheel but watching them closely.

“I wasn’t going to wreck all of them,” Jessi muttered. “Fine, we just have to figure out which one is Billy’s.”

They surveyed the two dozen dogs. Jerome put his and Jessi’s aside, then a few that they remembered their friends had made. They examined the remaining dogs carefully, looking on the bottoms to see if anyone had signed their work, but found no more clues.

Checking the time, Jerome’s anxiety spiked. “We’ve only got half an hour left.”

Jessi drummed her fingers on the table. “Fine, let’s do the direct approach.” Jerome had no idea what she meant until she pulled out her phone and found Billy’s number. (“How do you have his number?” “I have everyone’s number.”)

“Hi Billy, it’s Jessi. You know the dog you made at the pottery barn? What does it look like?”

Jerome couldn’t quite hear his response, but Jessi froze and turned pale. She immediately hung up and wandered away, arms folded tightly. Worried, Jerome went over to her.

“He called me a–” She couldn’t repeat the slur, but she didn’t need to. He’d never seen her so hurt. Jerome awkwardly patted her shoulder, and, behind them, he heard the artist grumble something supportive.

“We’ll get the ring, I promise,” he said, trying to channel her usual confidence. It didn’t seem to work. She just shrugged, collapsed onto a stool, and started scrolling through her phone.

Now he had to find it, if only to rub it in Billy’s stupid face. He weighed the dogs, but they were too inconsistent. He poked a thin wire into them to see if it would hit the ring, but had no luck. He was trying to calculate how many days of detention he’d get for destroying the dogs when Jessi popped up.

“Rex!” She waved an Instagram post at him. “Billy’s dog is called Rex!”

Jerome’s tense shoulders sagged in relief. He found the lumpy dog with “Rex” scrawled on the collar and presented it to her. Gleefully, Jessi crushed the dog in her fist. But no ring emerged. With a cry, she threw the lump of clay on the ground and stamped on it, continuing long after it was apparent that nothing was hidden there.

Jerome rubbed his temples. “Maybe Billy just chucked it into a corner,” he said, but that didn’t sound right. Why? He flipped through his notebook, and the final clue clicked into place.

“Jessi,” he said. Hearing his confident tone, she stopped smearing clay on the ground. “Which one is Audra’s?”

Immediately, Jessi picked up a well-sculpted howling wolf. “This one, but we can’t destroy it! I saw how hard she worked on it.”

“Billy said she’d get the ring back, and so I bet he put it in her dog.” He reached for it but she cradled it protectively. “Easier to get it out now rather than after it’s fired.”

“No way. She’ll hate me if we wreck it.” Jessi stared at the wolf. “And she won’t want to go out with me if we don't get her ring back.”

He wanted to say that no one could be that illogical, but romantic matters were far out of his wheelhouse. All he knew was that they couldn’t get the ring without destroying the dog. He looked around for some sort of tool that would help, and the answer presented itself. They couldn’t do it, but someone else may be able to.

The artist was focused on his clay. Jerome steeled himself; talking to people was usually Jessi’s domain. But he had to do it for her. He walked over to the artist and hovered there, uncertain.

“Um, excuse me?” The artist pulled down his headphones and looked at him. Jerome searched for the right words, but had to settle for the jumble that came out of his mouth. “We made dogs today, but my friend … there’s a ring in one of them. Can you get it out without wrecking it?”

He winced at his ineptitude. After an interminable pause of a few seconds, the artist nodded.

Jerome sighed in relief. “Thank you!”

They went over to Jessi and the artist held out a clay-covered hand. Jessi hesitated but gave him the wolf. He gently turned it around. “Ah yup. This crease is where the ring went in.”

They watched as the artist performed a delicate surgery: he used a small knife to cut a plug out of the wolf, extracted the ring from it, then reinserted the plug. Lastly, he carefully resculpted it so that it looked exactly as Audra had made it.

Jessi clutched the ring. “Thanks so much! Uh, sorry about that,” she said, motioning to the remains of Billy’s dog.

“No worries. Sounds like he deserved it,” he said, then went back to his wheel. Jerome got the impression he was more comfortable with clay than people; he sympathized.

After Jessi cleaned the ring and thanked the artist again, they walked back through the village to the porch of the now-shut gift shop. The setting sun shone golden on the windows of the rammed earth house. Jessi was too excited to wait until school the next day, so she called Audra to tell her the good news. Jerome couldn’t hear what Audra said, but by Jessi’s blush and enthusiastic agreement, he could tell that she’d asked her out. Both grinning uncontrollably, they chatted about date plans until Jerome’s dad arrived and it was time to go home.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

I'm in!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

The Machine
815 words

A vast undulating plain stretches ahead of K, white as sand; she sits at its edge. The plain holds infinite possibilities but its emptiness reveals nothing. It waits for someone to dare make a mark on its untouched surface. After years of thought, K dares. She places the machine onto the white surface in front of her: the pen at its prow quivers in readiness, and she enters the machine.

The story is her cheese toastie daydream. Warm, comforting, happiness guaranteed. She wants to share it, to give others warmth, comfort, and happiness, and that means, unfortunately, interfacing with the machine. Its metal body and patchwork gears are unknowable to her, all she can do is turn the crank. Taking a deep breath, she grabs the wooden handle and summons the beginning of the story. It’s as sharp as a movie and envelopes her senses. Overhead, blue sky peeks through a canopy of orange leaves. Dead leaves crunch underfoot. The air pleasurably stings his nose, not enough to pull up his woolen scarf. He’s walking, the aroma of his coffee mingling with the decay of leaves, the chatter of others massaging his ears. Ahead of him, on a green bench, sits a woman whose face glows bronze in the sunlight. They will fall in love.

As K imagines, the machine jolts to life. The handle vibrates and she begins to turn it. It offers resistance at first, working out the rust. As K explores the scene, turning the crank becomes easier. Black words spill forth onto the white plain; K grins at the sight. She is creating!

But then. Is the bird in the tree above them a pigeon or a crow? The handle refuses to turn until she chooses. Worry starts crawling into her skin. Where did this bird come from? Why did its undetermined nature jam progress her story? To gain perspective, she leaves the machine and reads what it has printed on the white plain. “It was a nice sunny day in late autumn…” Worry seizes her heart. This is not her story.

Well, no, that’s not entirely true. The same elements are there– the man, the park, the woman on the bench– but the sense, the image is gone, replaced by black-and-white words, all harsh lines and thin curves. The words talk about the scene but they are empty, devoid of the feeling she is so effortlessly able to summon in her own mind.

It must be the fault of the translator. K glares at the machine, scanning its brown-gray-purple body for any settings she can adjust. There are none. She rips the page out of the plain in frustration, leaving the maw of white untarnished once again, and reenters the machine. She grips the handle, less girl at a wishing well and more captain of a sailing ship. She summons the image again and pushes it out into the machine. Write, she commands.

Taking a deep breath, she summons the beginning of the story. It’s as sharp as a movie and envelopes her senses. Overhead, blue sky peeks through a canopy of orange leaves. Dead leaves crunch underfoot. The air pleasurably stings his nose, not enough to pull up his woolen scarf. He’s walking, the aroma of his coffee mingling with the decay of leaves, the chatter of others massaging his ears. Ahead of him, on a green bench, sits a woman whose face glows bronze in the sunlight. They will fall in love.

Is she insane? Doing the same thing again and expecting a different outcome. She doesn’t need to exit the machine to see that the words it’s written are as insipid as before. Angry at the stupid machine for turning her beautiful world to trash, she cranks the handle again and again. The machine prints over the previous words, turning both versions of the story to unintelligible mush, but she doesn’t stop. The machine obliges until a cat jumps into her lap, demanding she return to the outside. Her arms are tired anyway, so she leaves without a backwards glance at the steaming machine.

The next day, she approaches the white plain. Almost-white plain. Where she expects to see a disaster, she sees a miracle. In front of the machine is an image, a picture made of yesterday’s furious words. Sparse characters form the pattern of leaves overhead. A semi-ordered pile of letters sketch out the grass and the people in the background. The most dense collection defines the woman’s face, down to her freckles and her wooly hat. The image has the machine’s influence in its angular, black-and-white quality, but it’s recognizably her story.

K rubs her face. She moves the machine forward, one more step into the not-quite-emptiness. Then an alarm rings: time to go to work. It pulls her away from the machine, from the plain. She reaches out, then vows to return tomorrow.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

I return! In and flash rule please

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

The Light of the Moon
They crept ever closer, waiting to feed
1231 words

The glittering stars stretched from horizon to horizon, as multitudinous as the spots of a leopard. It was the dry season. A soft breeze occasionally rustled the brown grass, but otherwise the only sound Njeri could hear was her own panting breath and the footsteps of the girl behind her. That damned girl. The moon was only a quarter full, so healing her of the yellow fever had taken all of Njeri’s strength and skill. Arguing with her parents and the village elders about Njeri’s rightful payment had taken the rest of the day. Now she walked the savannah at night, and she knew better than to believe the silence meant she was safe.

There. Njeri stopped to look over the waist-high grass into the darkness. Only the stars looked back, but she’d heard it. Another body moving through the night. The girl huddled close. “What was that?” she whispered. She’d heard it too.

“Quiet,” Njeri replied in a low tone. It’s probably your father or brothers coming after you, she thought. Njeri could heal most ailments using her extensive collection of medicinal plants, which now rested heavily on her shoulders, and a small pool of magic that waxed and waned with the moon. But the girl had been too far gone, so Njeri had to call upon the Moon Goddess herself to return her from the threshold of death. The Goddess had but one rule, as clear as the waters of Mzima: those saved by her grace belonged to her, and the one who saved them became their teacher. A life for a life. Her own fundisha had healed Njeri from a snakebite as a girl, younger than this one. It was the way of things, but this village did not respect her ways. Njeri had needed to resort to a well-placed smoke bomb to escape with her new ward.

The grass rustled again, this time on her other side. The girl whimpered but Njeri didn’t stop walking. Ahead, the dark mass of the forest blotted out the stars. If she could get there, she could hide until morning. The rustling was behind them now, and Njeri thought she could hear an exhaled breath. If they were men from the village, why weren’t they attacking? Perhaps the girl, who was now indistinguishable from her shadow, was too close. Njeri gritted her teeth and prayed. Please, Goddess, keep me safe from these angry, blasphemous men.

The grass parted and a shape rushed past her, massive but hunched. Njeri froze, mind trying and failing to interpret the shape as a human form. Then, from behind, came a low chuckle. The noise was repeated on her left, then ahead, until the cackling laughter surrounded them like a wildfire.

The girl gripped Njeri’s arm, eyes wide as the moon. “Hyenas!”

Thank the Goddess. The nocturnal and matrilineal creatures were sacred to her deity, and so she could influence them. “Stay close,” she told the girl, then reached out to the animals through her connection to the Moon Goddess. A pack of eight was circling around them, hungry, savoring the scent and helplessness of the two humans. She reached for her power to compel them to leave, but nothing was there. The well was dry. The hyenas smelled her sudden fear and cackled again.

“Hurry.” Njeri grabbed the girl’s hand and strode towards the forest. Under her breath she muttered prayers to the Goddess, that the hyenas would leave them be until they reached the forest. Her words were drowned out by the rushing of blood and adrenaline in her ears. The faster they walked, the bolder the hyenas became. The animals toyed with them, running past to feast on the surge of fear. The girl cried out as one brushed her and Njeri’s bare legs with its wiry fur.

The stars ahead had disappeared, swallowed by the forest. They were so close. Suddenly, the hyenas fell silent. One appeared in front of Njeri and the girl, forcing them to stop. Its head came up to Njeri’s belly and it was more massive than her and the girl put together. The matriarch. Njeri could sense the other hyenas silently falling into position, encircling them. They only waited for their queen’s signal to attack. Njeri stretched out her hands, appealing to their shared connection to the Moon Goddess, but the matriarch responded by showing her finger-long fangs. Her spotted shoulders tensed and Njeri, mouth dry as dust, stepped in front of the girl. Moon Goddess, I will not beg for myself, but please spare her. The hyena advanced, head low and mouth drooling.

“Go away!” The girl’s shout broke the tension like lightning. Njeri watched in astonishment as the matriarch pulled up, staring at the girl with eyes blacker than the night. The girl stared back, seemingly unafraid, eyes shining silver in the starlight. After a heartbeat, the hyena turned and disappeared into the long grass. Already, the Goddess shows this girl her favor, Njeri thought. She felt humbled: in this moment, the girl had more power than herself.

But behind them, the rest of the pack shifted and growled. The girl may be blessed, but she did not have the experience needed to banish all the hyenas. Still, the way to the forest was now clear, and Njeri tugged the trembling girl forward. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Akinyi,” the girl said. The dawn.

To their left, a hyena barked. The pack was still hungry. “Run!” The woman and the girl sprinted towards the trees, only a few steps away. Njeri could feel the hot breath of the hunters on her feet. The stars overhead yielded to the forest canopy. Njeri scooped up Akinyi and threw her up into the safety of the branches as jaws closed around her calf.

Njeri fell onto the roots, rolling and lifting her arms to block the hyena’s next attack. Its bloody muzzle dove towards her face, then jerked to the side. It took Njeri a second to see the spear protruding from its chest, and a few seconds more to see the man chasing the remaining hyenas into the dark with a blazing torch.

The man soon returned for his spear, yanking it out of the hyena in a spray of blood. He looked familiar. “Baba!” the girl shrieked, leaping down from the tree like a bird. The man met her embrace, pressing her head into his shoulder.

“Thank Ra'aten you’re safe,” he said, then glared at Njeri, who was still lying on the ground. “I saved your life, witch, now you will give back what is mine. A life for a life.”

Njeri sat up and nearly fainted from the blood loss. She was in no state to argue, even if she wanted to. And she realized, with a pang of loss, that she couldn’t. She owed the man, and the price must be paid. It was the way of things. “A life for a life.”

The man nodded. Akinyi grinned, as bright as the crescent moon. As her father turned to leave, the girl’s eyes met Njeri’s. She could still see starlight shining within them. Njeri watched the light of the man’s torch fade as the pair retreated across the savannah, but her hope did not fade with it. The girl was Goddess-touched, and she was her fundisha. They would meet again on another moonlit night.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

I'm in

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Messy Bitch
980 words

Lupe held her wrap above her head to block the full moon and, stumbling in her high heels, ran into Evergreen High’s gymnasium. The room’s natural sweatiness mingled with the sweet smells of flowers, punch, and too much perfume. The miasma, combined with strobing lights and booming music, assaulted Lupe’s senses, and she grinned wildly. Prom was exactly how she’d imagined it.

Lupe normally spent full moons with her family, running together as a pack of wolves through the pine forests outside of town. She couldn’t deny that she enjoyed the freedom to be herself that she never felt in her daily life as a lonely high schooler. But Rochelle from math class had been talking about prom literally all year and she’d finally convinced Steve to go too. Just the thought of him in a tuxedo made Lupe blush. All she wanted was to be a normal teenager tonight, and normal teenagers went to prom.

Finally she spotted Rochelle and Steve across the room. She shoved her way through the crowd excitedly, then waved to get their attention. “Hey guys, I made it!” she shouted.

They looked startled. “I thought you said your parents wouldn’t let you?” Rochelle asked.

“We had a big fight,” Lupe admitted, trying to forget the disappointment on her mom’s face as she slammed the front door. “But it’s prom. I had to come!”

Rochelle relaxed at this perfectly reasonable statement, and grabbed Steve’s arm. “Cool. Now let’s go dance!”

Lupe stole a glance at Steve as Rochelle dragged him into the mass of bodies. He was as handsome as she’d imagined. He caught her eye, then they both looked away quickly. Heart pounding in time with the music, she decided that tonight she’d make her move. Well, after this song, this was her jam!

She danced with abandon, feeling just as free as if she was running through long grass or howling at the moon. Eventually the music shifted to a slow song and she came to, noticing with shame that the other dancers, including Rochelle and Steve, had moved away to give her flailing limbs a wide berth.

Lupe slunk off the dancefloor with the rest of the single people and spotted the pair outside the gymnasium doors. She hovered on the threshold. If moonlight touched her, she’d start to change.

“Hey, Lupe!” Rochelle called. “Sorry, it looked like you were having fun, but me and Steve were too hot.” She fanned herself in the cool night air.

“Aren’t you hot too?” Steve beckoned her over. Lupe wanted so badly to join him. She chewed her lip and glanced up at the moon. It was behind a cloud, maybe it would stay that way? She took a tentative step outside, then another.

She managed a few minutes of chitchat before she felt a familiar prickling on her scalp. She gasped and leaped backwards out of the moonlight.

“Are you all right?” Rochelle said, alarmed. “Wait, did you wear cat ears to prom?”

“What, no!” Lupe said, using all her willpower not to touch the wolf ears that had appeared under her hair. “Just … I’ll be back in a second.” She whirled and rushed to the bathroom, trying not to step on the tail under her dress.

Of course, the bathroom was full of girls. Lupe tried to ignore their stares as she rearranged her hair to hide her ears. Still, the whispers of freak … weirdo … furry stung, as they always did. She left as quickly as she could, hoping to convince Rochelle and Steve that everything was normal.

The music was now too loud for her sensitive wolf ears and she skirted around the back of the dancefloor, hoping Rochelle and Steve hadn’t gone far. She heard them behind the bleachers before she saw them, and some animal instinct made her stop and listen first.

“What’s up with Lupe? She’s always a little strange but she’s been, like, extra high-strung tonight,” Rochelle said.

“I think she’s got a crush on me,” Steve said. Lupe’s heart leapt to her throat, then sank like a rock as he said, “It’s making things awkward. I knew we should’ve gone official before prom.”

Her ears buzzed with adrenaline, but Lupe still heard Rochelle say, “I know. I just like it being our secret, though.” Then, the unmistakable sound of kissing.

Lupe stumbled backwards, hands over her ears. The hot air of the gymnasium smothered her, the music and the judgemental looks and the hormones overwhelmed her senses. She had to get away, so she ran outside into the waiting arms of the moonlight. She managed to get out of sight behind the building before her wolf form tore out of her long dress.

Finally, she felt like herself. Senses sharpened, she smelled that she wasn’t alone. Two guys, football players who’d never even glanced her way, now stared at her, cigarettes dangling from their fingers. If she could, she would’ve laughed at the petrified expressions on their normally confident faces. Then she grinned and advanced on them. Tonight was supposed to be fun, so she was going to have fun her way.

The boys screamed as she charged past them, back into the gymnasium. The crowd scattered before her as she herded them around the room, reveling in the way she could force them to run left or right. Then she upended the refreshments table, punch bowl and all, adding chaos on top of chaos. With her keen nose, she found Rochelle and Steve still hiding behind the bleachers. She snapped at Steve and he bolted, leaving Rochelle paralyzed with fear. Lupe licked her face before bounding out the door and across the sportsfield.

As she entered the woods, she heard a distant howl. Mom was going to ground her forever but it was totally worth it. Grinning, she ran to find her family.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Week 521: Sports Day

Gosh, it's been nearly 10 years of sitting at a desk, scribbling out words? Time to go get some exercise, you nerds!

This week I want some stories about sports! Any sport is fine, from football to ulama, curling to chessboxing, darts to dressage ... you get the idea. You can even make up a sport if you don't like any that humanity has already invented. Flash rules are available on request.

Any genre is allowed. Your sport doesn't have to be the central conflict but it does have to feature a bit more than just "Grizwald the Arcane played squash on the weekends, now here's a story about wizards." Also, if all your stories are about plucky underdogs, I will be displeased.

Erotica, fanfic, the usual, are all out of bounds.

Word count: 1,500

Signups close Friday, 29 July at 11:59 PM PST
Submissions due Sunday, 31 July at 11:59 PM PST

My Shark Waifuu

Team Roster:
Thranguy - cornhole
Sitting Here
MockingQuantum - kendo
Lily Catts
Something Else
Chernobyl Princess
Sailor Viy
Bad Seafood - dog surfing
a friendly penguin
Uranium Phoenix
Screaming Idiot - sepak takraw
hard counter
The Cut of Your Jib

My Shark Waifuu fucked around with this message at 23:01 on Jul 30, 2022

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Thranguy posted:

In, flash

Your sport is cornhole!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

MockingQuantum posted:

gently caress it, I'm in. Sports flash me, Shark Waifuu!

Your sport is kendo!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Bad Seafood posted:

Put me in coach, and flash me while you're at it.

Your sport is dog surfing!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Screaming Idiot posted:


Gimme a flash rule, coach

Your sport is sepak takraw!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Signups are closed!

If you still want to participate in the last TD of the decade, there's still one judge slot open.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Submissions for week 521 are closed!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

In for vanilla, please fill in my blanks!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Week 521 Results

This week was truly the Olympics of Thunderdome, with strong entries all around. The judges were impressed with all of you. We evaluated the stories on their technical and artistic prowess, and some rose above the others.

But not everyone can be a winner. The loss this week belongs to Sonny with Joyce and Sanchez. Still, last place in the Olympics is nothing to sneeze at, we hope to see you again.

And now, our podium!

🥉 It was a photo finish for bronze, but Thranguy with Planet Cornhole edged ahead of the others with humor and heart (and Elvis).

🥈 For technical excellence in capturing the moment, MockingQuantum with Fumikomi-ashi wins silver!

🥇 Our gold medal winner, and Blood Empress for another decade, is Sitting Here with But, so, the cactus. Elegant, great prose, and baseball. Please imagine a flag and national anthem of your choice, and take a victory lap.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Vanilla entry

Total Eclipse of the Heart
778 words
A tree agonizes over radio

At the edge of the forest, looking out over the summer camp, was a tree that sang. Specifically, it sang the greatest hits of the 80s thanks to a long-forgotten radio that sat at its heart, enveloped in wood by the tree over the years. The oak loved the beating music playing within it and so kept the radio powered with its own life energy. For this oddity, generations of campers saw the tree as a defining feature of the camp, and the tree itself had a fondness for the young humans, saplings, who filled the sun-drenched summers with shouts and laughter.

One hot evening, the oak noticed the shift in the humans’ patterns. As the music of Madonna played, the oak could sense adults pacing the camp, calling in unusually serious tones. They soon spread to the field, moving towards the forest. Slowly, the oak understood that two saplings weren’t where they should be.

The oak sent out a message to the other trees in the forest. “Have two young humans been seen? Their guardians want them to return.”

Its words propagated through the interconnected roots, and it began to receive messages back. “No, no,” said the trees who bothered to respond. Most had never seen a human and so didn’t care about them as the oak did.

Finally, it received a yes. A faraway pine tree reported, rather crossly, that two humans were sitting on its roots.

The oak sent its gratitude. “I am pleased that they are safe. Eventually the adults will find them.”

The pine responded, “Either the humans or the bear.”

“The bear?”

“The black bear asleep in my branches. A heavy one too, it’s putting quite the strain on my trunk.”

This alarmed the oak. “But the adults are loud in their searching. They may wake the bear when they find the saplings!”

The pine sent back the tree equivalent of a shrug. “Maybe they will move before then. Humans are unpredictable, destructive, I don’t understand why you care about them.”

The oak didn’t know how to answer that quickly, so it asked, “Can you hear the music?”

“No, not now,” The pine could sometimes hear snippets of human voices when the breeze was right, but not often.

The oak surveyed the other trees in the area, determining the range of the radio. “If the saplings can hear it, they will be able to locate the camp,” it explained.

“What, can you control the wind?” the pine said. “How will you get them to hear it?”

The oak poured more of its life energy into the radio, boosting its volume. “And now?”

The pine listened. “Some noise is tickling my roots but the saplings haven’t moved.”

The oak did not respond. The pine waited, then wondered if the oak had given up on the saplings.

It had not. The pine cried out in shock as the oak pulled energy from all the trees in the immediate area. The forest vibrated with a tremendous crack, as violent as a lightning bolt, as the oak split itself in half. Every creature stopped at the calamity, animal senses calculating whether they too were under threat.

In this collective pause, the pine heard something new. The sound was like human voices, but more, better. The tree thought humans made noises like the chaos of a rock fall, a chaotic sound that had no place in the soft undergrowth of the forest. But this sound belonged. It was the song of birds and the rumble of bears, the creak of branches in the wind. It was music. Finally, the pine understood what lived at the heart of the oak. The revelation felt as joyous as the first time sunlight hit its needles.

The music also had a transformative effect on the saplings huddled under the pine.

“Do you hear that?”

“Yeah. I think it’s Bonnie Tyler?”

“You know what that means? Camp’s that way!”

“You sure? Why couldn’t we hear it before?”

“Dunno, maybe the wind’s changed. Come on!”

The saplings ran through the forest, guided by the music. The bear, disturbed by the commotion, merely snuffled and went back to sleep. The pine followed the pressure of their footfalls all the way home, where the camp erupted in shouts of joy.

“They are home.” The oak’s message came across as a whisper. It was still alive, but it would take years to recover its former strength.

“Yes.” The pine said, then added, “Thank you.”

The oak hummed, contented. Eventually, the human voices from the camp faded, ceding the night to the quiet sounds of the forest. And, louder than ever, the greatest hits of the 80s.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Fly Ball
542 words

When I was a teenager I was on a softball team. Now, I don’t mean to imply that I was part of the team; far from it. I came to the same field as them, did the same drills, played catch, but that was where our relationship ended. I didn’t talk to them and they didn’t talk to me. Why? I don’t know.

Part of it was probably that I was an unathletic nerd, with average to below-average skills at softball. Therefore, I was stuck in left field, a position that required no interaction with other members of the team and generally demanded very little skill. If I saw any action, it was chasing down a ground ball or home run that had gone over my head. My throwing arm wasn’t even that good, but it didn’t matter. Left field was mostly a place to daydream about being anywhere but a cold, muddy sports field on a Saturday morning.

So imagine my surprise when I hear the crack of a bat and the shouting of my teammates. I look up and there’s a ball! Fly high above me, but on a trajectory that is within my capability to catch. Endless fly-ball drills take over and I move underneath it, hold up my glove, and it falls right in. The impact is harder than in the drills but I squeeze it tight. You’re out. I hold the ball for a second, then throw it back to the infield. I feel great: for the first time in ages, I feel like I’ve materially contributed to the game.

I’m still riding that high when, a few batters later, it happens again. A lower ball this time, a high line drive over the third baseman’s head. Now I know I can do this. I move in and scoop the ball out of the air. Out two. I can sense the team noticing me for the first time. I’m a player, not just a scarecrow standing in a field.

So when the third ball comes my way, I want it. I can tell that it’s a foul ball, but if I catch it it’s an out nonetheless. It’s a stretch though, a short fly ball over third base, but I run as fast as I can, my mitt outstretched. But the ground is muddy and I slip. The ball lands on the grass, the umpire calls it foul, and I throw it back to the pitcher. My pants streaked with mud, I feel deflated. The feeling continues as the inning, and the game, end with no other balls coming my way. I had my time in the sun, now back to counting blades of grass in left field.

My actions didn’t go totally unappreciated. At each practice, the coach assigned someone to lead the warm-ups, usually someone who’d played well the game before. Needless to say, this had never been me. But at the following practice, the coach chose me, “not for the balls that you did catch, but for the one you tried so hard to get.” And sure, it didn’t change the dynamic between me and my teammates one bit, but now I felt like I belonged, just that little bit more, on the team.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

🏆 Week 521 crits!
This was a strong week so a lot of my crits come down to personal preferences and nitpicking.

I like the premise of Ecoball, but between explaining the game and introducing the sci-fi setting, the characters get short shrift. Jola is fun but her motivations for re-entering the Ecoball arena are unclear. Even at the end when we find out she’s won and subsequently demolished a skyscraper, it feels like we’re missing a lot of backstory. Why are the organizers of Ecoball out to get her? Why was this skyscraper important enough to come back for? In addition, Talvint seems to exist only for Jola to have someone to talk to in the story. Their relationship could be better defined. Overall, interesting ideas but this story tries to do too much.

This story was a contender for third, but like the previous story, I think it suffers a bit from trying to pack in sci-fi worldbuilding and an unfamiliar sport into the word count. However, I did find the descriptions of the spaceship colony and its inhabitants are evocative at capturing the futility of their existence. Where I got confused was with the portrayal of the spacewalk execution: at the beginning people with this fate are described as “fortunate,” but it’s the team’s punishment for failure. Unless going into the garden is their punishment? What makes the difference? The dreamlike quality of the story works with the character’s general confusion but it does make the stakes of the game hard to understand.

A Simple Magic
I enjoyed reading this story of a cute demon and racewalking. The frustration that the character feels at her teammates’ teasing is matched by her clear love for the sport, so there’s a nice tension there. I don’t really follow her logic though: if people are teasing her for doing racewalking, why does she think winning will solve that issue? In fact, later in the story it doesn’t. I think the emotional transition to “I want to win for myself” could be made more explicit. The demon doesn’t really do much in the story, which I think is OK as that makes the story more about the character’s internal journey.

The descriptions of the match and the seamless introduction of all the kendo terminology are spot on. I enjoyed how this story, out of all of them, made the actual sport the central conflict and immersed the reader fully in the moment. While Nae mentioned that the grandfather-grandson reveal should have come sooner, I enjoyed the match-up between an aging master and a talented student as it was. In fact, the reveal of their connection actually lessened the stakes for me: of course the grandfather is going to be proud of the grandson, and of course the grandson is going to respect his grandfather. When the opponent was anonymous, it felt like the old man had real stakes in proving he was still the master.

Good Dog Waffles
A cute story about a good dog who is bad at agility. The manic distractible dog voice remains fun throughout the story, though it does make it a little challenging to understand what is happening in the human world. It seems like there’s a story with the small human being frustrated with Waffles being so distracted but then being proud of them anyway at the end? I was looking for the story with the humans because the dog has such surface-level emotions that I figured the growth/change of the story must be elsewhere. If that was your intention, I think it could be made more explicit. If not, it’s still a fun romp in the mind of a very good dog.

I like the cyberpunk interpretation of dog surfing and all the anime details. For the first half of the story, I was on board (hah) with the race for mysterious stakes through a megacity … but then more and more worldbuilding got piled on (notably the cleaners) and the story ended without revealing why they had the race in the first place. To get accepted to a gang, but what sort of gang? Why couldn’t she just not take Spooky on the gang missions? Since we don’t know what exactly the stakes are, when she walks away at the end it makes the whole thing seem pointless, like it didn’t really matter that much to her as she can give it up so easily.

Taking the Plunge
This story was a bit strange to read, mostly because it set up a lot of story threads– plunging (a lot of exposition here), the Lois and Sadie friendship, Lois and Jonah– that don’t really form a complete arc. The ending seems to leave the question of plunging up in the air, and Lois hooking up with Jonah and not recommending plunging seems to barely affect Sadie. I didn’t quite buy Lois and Jonah as a couple because Jonah is not as strongly characterized as the women (and it put me in mind of IOC corruption). I did like Lois and Sadie’s back-and-forths but there was just too much going on in the story for it to go anywhere.

Heartbreak on the Miami Trench
I enjoyed reading this story, but I was actually more invested in it before the reveal of the mermaid. The first half of the story is about a YouTuber trying to generate good content and having to deal with a frustrating situation that turns into a potentially dangerous one. All the mentions of a shark gave me an expectation that this was going to turn into a survival scenario, so the appearance of the mermaid gave me genre whiplash. It also removed some tension: he can beg and reason with a mermaid, not so much with a shark. The mermaid character was fun, but I think should have been introduced or hinted at earlier in the story so it’s clear we’re in a fantasy story rather than a modern “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Joyce and Sanchez
This is a lot of story to tell in the word count, and by trying to cover so much ground we miss out on a lot of characterization that we need to get into the mind of such an odd character. More specifically, I think the problems start in the first paragraph. The first sentence mentions classmates, which gives us the rough age of the protagonist but then the fact that he’s an outcast at school doesn’t come into play at all. His age doesn’t seem to matter in the story, he could be 20 or 50 with no real change. The rest of the first paragraph describes why he loves hockey, and I enjoyed this part. From the first paragraph, I was thinking “ah, he admires hockey players and is an outcast, maybe the story will be him plucking up the courage to join a team.” But no, it goes to stalkerville instead. That’s a fine choice, but we need to understand the character better so that it doesn’t seem quite as random as it does in the story now.

To Kiss a Girl
This was one of my favorite stories this week. The story and characters were solid and covered a lot of ground effectively within the word count. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of modern life with the traditional Kazakh lifestyle and traditions. Like Nae said, though, the title gives away too much and so removes a lot of the tension in the story, making it fairly predictable. I’d also like to see more characterization of Dzinara. The change in the story is her gaining the courage to act on her feelings, but I’d like to see her have a little more agency instead of being told what to do by Samal. In the story, it’s easy to see why she adores Samal, but it would be nice to get some indication on what it is about Dzinara that Samal likes in return.

Bjorqvist Diaries
I found this story strange but fun. The strangeness for me (besides the image of Moldovan oil paintings of Slamballers) is that it feels like two-thirds of the story. I was waiting for the typical sports ending where he marries his technical prowess from the first half with his passion in the second half to become an overall good, happier Slamballer. Rereading it again for this crit, though, I appreciate that the story you’re telling is Deonte’s emotional acceptance of his sport. The characters are good, but Jurgen Hoddog could be established more early on in the story to form more of the rival-to-friend arc.

This story was one of the contenders for third: it’s well-written and captures the feeling of something becoming effortless, paradoxically, once you stop caring about it so much. The story gives a good sense of the Mixed TK shot put and how it feels to play it, but at the end I had the question: did this need to be a magic sport? Everything else in the story is mundane (the proctors even have to manually measure the distance) so what is the telekinesis adding that couldn’t be accomplished if the sport was javelin, or high jump, or regular shot put? The puzzle-solving element gives more to talk about and more clear progression over the three shots, so maybe what I was looking for is more sense of the world beyond “exactly like our own, but with magic shot put.”

But, so, the cactus.
This story had great prose and story structure, and, unlike others, didn’t spend too much time worldbuilding at the expense of the characters or emotions. As laid out in my autobiographical story from birthday week, the narrative mirrored my own experience playing baseball while growing up and so Wit and Ezra’s stories of being left-field weirdos resonated strongly with me. And since I was the head judge, you got the win (sorry about that). That being said, there’s a few rough areas: the “X, so Y must Z” sentence structure at the beginning gets repetitive and so loses its impact. The ending paragraph is a little cheesy and the phrase “wonders if she can be part of a world…” tripped me up, as she doesn’t seem like she was going to leave? I get that you meant that she can contribute to it, but I had a moment of doubt.

Planet Cornhole
This story had stiff competition for third place, but it edged out the others for a few reasons. One: it’s funny. All the absurdities are dialed to maximum. Comedy is hard to do so it should be commended when done well. Two: it has the right amount of worldbuilding. Other sci-fi stories this week got bogged down in trying to explain the premise, but having a strong POV character focused the story on what mattered: there’s ugly aliens who are challenging her dad to a game of cornhole. That leads to three: solid characters, especially Miranda and her totally embarrassing dad (who she’s also a little proud of). I’d like to see more characterization for Billy, though. Also, I don’t know what P.I.S.S. means/references so I had a small moment of confusion right at the end.

Three Winters Cold
I liked that this story dealt with the uncomfortable, toxic masculinity side to sports, even if the message was a little heavy handed in the end. The switching POVs between the three characters did take me out of the story each time, as I had to figure out who we were following every few paragraphs. It would flow better if the POV sections were clearer. Also, by having the three points of view we sort of get the same emotional story three times, as each guy voices their struggle and feels better for sharing it. By the end it’s not surprising at all that Ryan is also dealing with some poo poo, and it’s much less impactful than Scott’s story, so the story ends on a bit of an anticlimax.

m v n v m v love
First of all, tricking kids into learning/accomplishing things by making it a competition isn’t really a sport so much as it is parenting. The bigger issue for me in this story though is that I didn’t get a good understanding of what was going on outside the family life. The isolation (the kids have never seen a man?) and focus on survival made me think this is post-apocalyptic, but then there’s references to doctors and chemotherapy. If it’s in the present day, why is the mom so adamant that the kids are self-sufficient and removed from society? The imagery and characters are strong, but ultimately this story left me confused.

Striking Out Regrets
This story feels like an anime to me. Besides being set in Japan, the characters speak in an expository way (“Don't you remember your pitcher”, “You're still a worrywart, even after all those years”, etc.), laying out facts about themselves in a way that real people rarely do. Some information, like the fact that Kitami is a coach, gets repeated unnecessarily. The last two lines also lost me a bit: it’s unclear to me whether Yoshino’s line is sarcastic or sincere, and I don’t get why Kitami’s heart would sink in reaction to it. Up to this point, I enjoyed the emotions of the story and these characters reconnecting. I’d just like to get a deeper understanding of the characters so that they seem like real people.

Team Effort
This was a fun read, hampered by too many characters: Corvus, assassin professor but also a necromancer(?), the soccer players who get surface-level characterizations, the haruspex, and the headmistress. Whew. I was most interested in the soccer players and the idea that even assassin university has intramural sports teams. The reveal at the end is fun but, despite all the Corvus chat throughout the story, a little out of the blue. As the players note, he doesn’t give any indication he cares about soccer, so why is he putting together a team for the necromancy school? My suggestion would be to limit the POV to the soccer team (maybe even one player) as they try to win games and solve the mystery of who’s ordering the assassinations.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

In and flash, please and thank you

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

The Metamorphosis (IRL)
1441 words

When Gregory awoke one morning from dreamless sleep, he found himself transformed into a giant insect. He watched his small thin arms wave above his flat, armored body, as he was lying on his back, and thought, “I bet I can still code with these.”

By rocking back and forth, he was able to get out of bed, landing on his belly with a hard thud. The impact knocked the air out of him, and while he paused to recover, he heard a knock on his door. “Everything OK in there, man?” It was his roommate, Jeff. Their relationship was not close, with both of them preferring their rooms over the shared kitchen and small living room, so the noise must have been bad for Jeff to check on him.

“I’m fine, thanks,” Greg said. The words were garbled, as if his jaw and tongue had lost their coordination, but Jeff didn’t seem to notice. Greg heard the door to Jeff’s room close as he returned to his video games.

Greg could indulge in no such luxury; Jeff was between jobs and he had to work to pay their ever-increasing rent. Though his office had reopened post-pandemic, Greg chose to continue working from home. He had stopped playing soccer on the weekends and his drinking friends had drifted away after a year of lockdowns, but Greg was happy with his small world. With fewer distractions, he got more work done, trying his best to help his company reverse their declining sales. Adding his latest feature to the website would land more customers, Greg was sure of it.

Sitting at his desk, in his new body, was out of the question. Greg needed all his small legs to support his weight, so he grabbed the laptop in his jaws and dragged it, with considerable effort, onto the bed. He was late for the daily stand-up meeting. He opened the laptop, straining a leg in the process, and turned it on just in time to join the end of the meeting. His manager remarked on Greg not turning on his webcam, so Greg claimed a bad hair day. His manager paused, like he didn’t understand what Greg said, but didn’t push the issue. Happily, Greg had no more meetings that day, and so focused on his code, painstakingly typing each character with a single, spindly leg. The sticky pad on the end of his leg left a residue on his keyboard, but Greg didn’t care.

As was his custom, Greg worked late into the evening, only stopping when he noticed his hunger. He hadn’t eaten anything all day. With effort, he descended from the bed and opened the door to his room, looking into the kitchen. He had some leftover pasta in the fridge from last night, that would do. Greg crawled out, feeling rather exposed. He almost had the fridge door open when Jeff screamed behind him. “What the gently caress!”

Greg turned around as best he could, waving his antenna in equal agitation. Jeff was ruthless at killing cockroaches in their apartment. Their eyes met and Jeff recognized him. “Greg … oh my God.” Looking around in panic, Jeff grabbed a pan. “Here, have the rest of my taco mix. Just, I’m going to put it in your room, OK?”

Greg felt gratitude; Jeff could barely remember to take the trash out but here he was, volunteering to feed Greg. He scurried back into his room and Jeff tossed the pan in after him, shutting the door firmly. Greg picked at the food, despite his earlier hunger, then crawled under the bed to sleep.


The days and nights passed in the same way. Greg awoke from increasingly fitful sleep, turned on his laptop, and poked at his work. He now claimed illness for his reason to not appear on video or voice calls; his manager didn’t seem to mind that, but did remark upon Greg’s slow pace of coding. The company was not doing well, Greg knew, and yet he found it difficult to motivate himself. Instead of taking his usual, brief coffee breaks, he now found himself crawling up the walls and hanging, suspended on thin legs, from the ceiling. He entered a sort of meditative state and when he returned to his bed, he often found that several hours had passed. Feeling guilty, he tapped on his laptop late into the night, often ignoring the food Jeff tossed into his room every evening.

After three days of untouched leftovers, food stopped appearing. It took several days for Greg to notice, as he was preoccupied with his poor performance at work. But one evening, his hunger overtook his desire to code (what exactly he was coding, he’d forgotten). He opened the door, hurting his mouth in the process, and crept out into the kitchen. The lights were off and there were no signs of Jeff or his cooking. Was it possible Jeff had moved out without telling him? The thought filled Greg first with excitement, at the prospect of increased surface area on which to crawl, then revulsion. Jeff was his only connection to the outside world; without him, Greg would certainly be evicted. He needed him, but first he needed food.

Greg felt around the kitchen with his antenna, sniffing for any dropped crumbs, when he heard Jeff’s voice coming from his room. With a start, Greg realized it was the first human voice he’d heard in weeks, as he’d long since stopped joining work meetings. The sound of it was more nourishing than food, and Greg crept towards Jeff’s room. The door was ajar. Greg told himself he’d just have a quick peek, then Jeff laughed. “Nice one, Joe69. Thanks for subbing.” Laughter! Greg didn’t remember the last time he’d laughed. Before he could stop himself, he pushed his way into Jeff’s room.

Jeff was sitting at his computer as usual, back to him, reading through messages that flashed quickly across his screen. “Slow down, chat, what’s going on?” He finally swiveled around in his chair and glared down at Greg, panic, horror, and anger all vying for control of his face. “Get out!” he hissed and brandished a can of bug spray at Greg. Greg couldn’t walk backwards well and so caught a few blasts from the can before scurrying back to the darkest corner of his room. The door slammed shut behind him.


Greg didn’t feel hunger anymore, and he slept less as well. Occasionally he turned on his laptop out of sheer force of habit, but once it was open, he couldn’t remember what buttons to press, let alone in what order. He clicked a few times at random, then stared at the light from the screen until he decided to retreat under the bed. Jeff’s bug spray had weakened him so he could no longer climb the walls or ceiling, but he didn’t mind. Fewer choices made life simpler.

One day he managed to click on his email and read that he’d been fired. Greg was unsurprised– even in his current state he understood he hadn’t done any work for the last month– but he still felt the last bit of energy drain from his body. He fell and rolled to his final resting place under the bed, where the days and nights were indistinguishable. He wasn’t sad about his fate, or angry or resigned. He was nothing.

Greg’s mind drifted in and out of consciousness. Once, he heard a woman’s voice in the apartment. His antenna leaned towards it like flowers towards the sun. He couldn’t recall ever having a woman in the apartment, when was the last time he’d heard a woman’s voice? A human voice? Her light laughter mingled with Jeff’s baritone, then both voices faded. The last of Greg’s breath followed the sound away.

Mustering his courage, Jeff carefully moved Greg’s body to the building dumpster in the middle of the night. He especially didn’t want Mary to see it, she was more terrified of bugs than he was. When the dumpster lid slammed, he felt a twinge of sadness. Greg had never opened up to him about any family or friends, all that guy seemed to have was his work. A shame. But as Jeff went back upstairs, a great weight seemed to fall from his shoulders. His Twitch stream had gone viral after the appearance of Greg in the background, and so he had enough money to move into a new condo with Mary. Rented, of course, but still a promising new beginning. When Jeff got back to his room, instead of going to bed, he began to pack.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

I'm in!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Lambda of God
806 words

Alastair waited impatiently for his data from the James Webb Space Telescope to arrive. Logically, he knew he’d waited his whole career for this data, the data that would finally prove his theory and earn him, at the very least, a Nobel Prize. Still, the last few hours were still more agonizing than all the previous years of study put together.

To distract himself from the wait, he wandered the corridors of the university. It was exam time, so knots of students still populated the building, huddled over textbooks. Alastair smiled. He’d been a student like them, studying Einstein’s field equations, when he first encountered the cosmological constant. Represented by lambda, the constant signified the energy density of the vacuum. But how could nothingness have energy? Λ. The pointed shape resembled the roof of the church in his home village, where his father served as the vicar. Then (the memory was crystal-clear, even now), the lambda in his textbook turned on its side and spoke, moving like a mouth. <<find me>>

And so he’d pursued two courses of study: his daytime research in astrophysics and his nighttime research in human experiences of the divine, from world religions to Eastern philosophies to Western esotericism. Many practices had a concept of divine energy, a presence in the background of the universe, much like the dark energy predicted by the cosmological constant. The desire to prove that these ideas were the same, to scientifically prove the existence of God, became Alastair’s driving ambition.

Alastair couldn’t share his ideas with anyone, not yet. He knew that he’d gained a reputation for eccentricity, more so than other physicists, especially since an undergrad caught him reading a book on the Fraternitas Saturni. He didn’t care, though. When he succeeded in his quest, he’d get the recognition he deserved: Moses and Einstein rolled into one.

Years of research had led to his development of a system to transmute key phrases into sky coordinates, which he could then investigate under the guise of his astrophysics research. Most coordinates held nothing of interest; however, the word “tawhid” yielded a view of a new supernova. The providencial discovery bought Alastair another year of much-needed funding and, more importantly, the opportunity to get observation time using the new James Webb Space Telescope.

After careful consideration, he submitted coordinates derived from the phrase “holy, holy, holy,” which pointed at a particularly empty corner of space. And today was the fateful day the results were due to be delivered. He needed this data to show something, anything really, as failure would mean no second chance to access this remarkable equipment, which could look back to the beginnings of the universe itself. “In the beginning …”

Just then, his email pinged. Alastair looked greedily at the billions of raw numbers that formed his dataset. Something was contained within, he was sure. But when he ran the data through the standard analytics, he was disappointed. There were some stars, some galaxies, the usual cosmic background radiation, but nothing new. He sat in thought late into the night, after all the students had retreated to their dorms.

His mind drifted back towards lambda. Λ. It stood for many things: the cosmological constant in cosmology, the wavelength of light in optics, an anonymous function in computer science … of course. He couldn’t use only physics-based analytics to interpret the data, he had to incorporate the divine as well.

In the end, it was relatively easy. Alastair reversed his transmutation system to get phrases from the numeric data, which could then be translated into new values. In the early hours of the morning, his work was done and a new image appeared onscreen. His heart raced as he leaned into it. Those pixels, that pattern, it wasn’t random. It looked like … eyes. This was it, this went beyond science into the realm of the divine. Humanity’s first photograph of God. Time froze as Alastair stared at the culmination of his life’s work, the evidence that would catapult him to fame, fortune, and a Nobel Prize.

But time didn’t unfreeze. Alastair couldn’t move, couldn’t look away as one of the cosmic eyes in the static image slowly opened. The eye was lightyears away, had it opened now, or millions of years in the past? That was the last rational thought he had, as the eye spoke. <<WELCOME BROTHER>> The voice rattled Alastair’s entire being, rattled it out of his lab, out of the city, out into space. The rush of wings filled his ears as he reached back towards Earth, towards his past and his hard-earned future. The being drew him to itself, faster and faster, and Alastair choked out a sob as the pale blue dot disappeared into the utter blackness of space.

Then he saw the universe, and he no longer cared.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

In, flash please

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

All Aboard the AllSmiles Express
1497 words
Flash: AllSmiles!, a daycare/early childhood education contractor

At ten o’clock sharp, Rosetta disentangled herself from several toddlers, told May, “I’m going on my break,” and kicked on her hover shoes to fly over the baby gate. May had feared this moment all morning, and spread her arms as the kids dove onto her instead. “Who wants to go outside?” she asked futilely, though “outside” was really a room lined with screens displaying a forest scene.

Dax, an opinionated three-year-old, shook his head. “No, play!” The other children echoed him.

Of course. With a rueful look at the shelf of craft supplies, May shook out the basket of electronic toys instead, none of which she knew how to use. She didn’t even have any augments except for HUD contacts that popped up with a kid’s name, age, and important information like allergies– those were just plain useful. Her specialty was giving the kids tactile experiences and real objects instead of the lights and screens that surrounded them the rest of the day. However, after an accident yesterday involving paint and a parent’s expensive ocular implant, the director of AllSmiles had recommended she stick to electronic toys for a while. Usually Rosetta, who was augmented to the gills, handled those. But Rosetta was on her break, so now May had to hope the kids didn’t need her help with the toys.

Luckily, they didn’t. Clever Ava rolled out the holo-piano and the rest of them jumped on it, filling the room with discordant notes as they jumped on the virtual keys. May told herself that any music-making was good, and took the opportunity to look into the nursery. Poor baby Bit was feeling unwell that morning.

“Are they any better?” she asked Bit’s mother-bot. The bot wheeled over, Bit fussing in her arms. “Still distressed. Mild fever. Poor baby,” the bot said, then started to soothe them. May glanced at the rest of the infants, happily snuggled against their mother-bots, then re-entered the cacophony in the playroom.

Music-making had given way to whacking each other with laser-boards. She separated Dax and Leo, confiscating their toys. They whined and she looked helplessly at the pile of plastic electronics. Picking one at random, she pressed a button. Colored lights began spinning around the room. Okay, great. Now if she could find a music player, they could have a dance party.

Before she could find one in the pile of toys and kids, a gruff voice called from the doorway. “Uh, here to set up your model.” May turned to look and was surprised to see a delivery man hefting a gigantic crate. The kids crowded around the gate, pointing excitedly at his augmented yellow arms, and, from the nursery, she could hear Bit start to cry. She didn’t remember any deliveries scheduled, but the director had been busy scolding her this morning. “Thanks, come in,” she said quickly, shooing the kids away.

The man carefully entered the playroom and pried open the box while May went to check on Bit. “Defecation. Larger than normal,” informed the mother-bot, hushing Bit.

May thanked her and returned to find the man had installed a gigantic train set on the floor of the playroom. Holographic trains sped along the tracks. The kids were in awe. “Oh, it’s a model of the city!” The delivery man looked at her oddly, like that was an obvious statement. “Look kids, we’re here,” May said, pointing to the tiny hologram of their megatower. “Thanks,” she said to the delivery man. “Who’s this from?”

He consulted his datapad. “Looks like HyperRail. Lucky kids,” he said before he left. May agreed. Occasionally corporations would send them toy versions of their products to try to hook them early, which May hated, but she had to admit that the train set was impressive.

The trains enthralled the kids for a few minutes before they started to swipe at them. Their little hands went straight through the holograms. “Miss, want to play!” Leo said. May found a control panel on one side of the model. All the buttons were unhelpfully unlabelled. Ava started to fuss and copycat Tera joined in. They stomped around the holo-city like Godzillas. “Just a second,” May pleaded, wishing that Rosetta would come back from her break. She poked a few buttons and the entire model flashed. “Manual control engaged.”

Now the kids could move the trains along the tracks, which they did with enthusiasm. Even the mother-bots came out to see what all the shrieking was about. “Happy children,” they cooed as their babies burbled happily. Bit stared at the trains with wide eyes.

May felt proud of herself when Rosetta returned and gave a low whistle. “drat, lucky kids. Holo-trains when I was a kid were a lot less detailed. Oh hey, there’s our building.”

They watched Dax and Ava try to smash together two trains, a warning beep flaring each time. “I guess technology can be fun,” May admitted.

“You’re only figuring this out now?” Rosetta said, sending out her extendable arm to stop the attempted collisions. The teachers encouraged the kids to play nicely with the trains; the alarm noises when the trains left the tracks were just too annoying.

They only had a few minutes of peace. Suddenly, a group of armored security guards burst into the playroom, followed by a handful of techs, a harried-looking executive, and finally, the director of AllSmiles. The kids froze and, after one of the techs dove onto the power button to turn off the model, began to wail. May could sense an epic group tantrum coming on. Rosetta scooped up some kids with her extendo-arm and May corralled the rest of them away. The security guards, a little lost with no threat to subdue, surrounded the model while the techs went to work dismantling it. At the sight of their toy being taken away, the kids’ screaming intensified.

“What’s going on?” May asked as the kids struggled against her.

“This was supposed to go to HyperRail on the eighty-third floor,” the director said in a strained tone. “Apparently it controls the city’s train traffic.”

May’s hand flew to her mouth, remembering the chaos the kids caused. Freed from her grasp, Tera dashed towards the model, only to bounce off a guard’s riot shield. She started to cry harder.

“Oh God.” May felt ill. Except for baby Bit, who was watching the commotion with interest, all the kids were melting down. She could only think of one thing to distract them.

“Who wants to paint with glitter?” she said in a falsely cheery voice, ignoring the director’s look of alarm. Offered this rare treat, the kids piled into the art corner. May got down the supplies while Rosetta wrestled smocks onto them. The director, seeing the effectiveness of the distraction, said nothing to stop them, even when Dax started to paint silver glitter on his arms. “Look, I’m like daddy!” he exclaimed.

The techs had almost gotten the model completely packed away when Bit started fussing. “Say bye-bye, Bit,” the mother-bot said, leaning him over the box to see it better. Bit responded by spitting up all over it. The HyperRail team and director all groaned.

“Sorry,” May said, inadequately, as she wiped it up. Behind her, the executive muttered something about millions of credits. The director watched the HyperRail team hurry out of the room with a pained expression on her face. Behind her, the kids started yelling “Train! Train!”

Technology really was too much. May was about to tackle the glitter explosion in the art corner when she remembered how happy they’d been with the train set. Maybe she could make this right. May rushed out of the room, to Rosetta’s annoyance, and managed to catch the HyperRail team just as the guards were loading the box onto the grav-lift.

“Sorry to bother you again, but do you have something like that as a toy version?” she asked the executive. “Like you saw, the kids really loved it.”

“We have small models in our company store,” the executive said.

“Maybe the kids could have the old control module,” a tech piped up. “It doesn’t have auto-scheduling, but they wouldn’t need that anyway.”

May and the tech looked at the executive hopefully. “That could work. We need some good publicity after today,” she said, clearly thinking aloud. “Cute kids, trains, an unfortunate mishap. We’ll deliver it tomorrow,” she said decisively. “Networks will be here, make sure that baby is camera-ready.”

May returned to the playroom and told the director and Rosetta the good news. The director’s eyes lit up at the free publicity and rushed off to ensure the AllSmiles branding would be in any shot. Rosetta’s eyes lit up at the chance to play with a train model again.

What a morning. “All right, time for my break,” May announced. She saw Rosetta’s look of alarm as she was confronted with a room full of kids gleefully painting each other in glitter, and smiled.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

I'm in!

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

The Spellcaster's Dilemma
1577 words

After Professor Folkston’s announcement of the final project– a group spell to create a powerstone– Gemma surprised everyone by sauntering over to Esme. Their classmates looked envious, but Esme just glared. She’d been especially sour ever since Gemma outscored her on the last exam.

“Let’s work together.” Gemma got straight to the point. “We’re the top two students, if we team up no one else can overtake us.”

At the Academy, the top student in each cohort earned the title of Elite and paid tuition for the next year. The lowest-scoring half of the cohort were expelled. The cull repeated each year until only one remained: the Exalted. Gemma’s mother, now one of the richest witches in the kingdom, had achieved it, and Gemma, the Elite for the past two years, was following in her mother’s footsteps. In addition, she knew Esme desperately wanted the tuition to avoid having to work as a part-time apothecary. The choice to team up was obvious, yet Esme hesitated to accept. Gemma resisted rolling her eyes at this recalcitrance. The other students hovered, waiting to pounce should the offer fall through.

Esme noticed them too. “Fine,” she said, cramming her spellbooks into her giant, ubiquitous rucksack. “Meet me in the library tomorrow after Hex Theory.” She pushed past the other students on her way out the door.

Gemma counted that as a win. She flipped her hair, gathered her things, and exited without a backwards glance at the rest of the class. Time to do some studying.


Esme sensed Gemma walking over to her library nook before she saw her. That girl exuded smugness and expensive perfume. Well, she assumed the perfume was expensive as everything else, from her clothes to her uptown apartment, certainly was. Gemma slid into the chair opposite and made eye contact. Esme didn’t like that either.

“So, the powerstone. The higher the power, the higher the marks,” Gemma said. “What’s your idea?”

Esme pushed some complicated diagrams across the table. Academic confidence had never been her weakness. “A summoning circle approach is best to maximize power for effort. This design should do it.”

Gemma looked at it thoughtfully. “I thought the same thing. It’ll be tough with just two people, but hey, it’s us.”

She grinned invitingly. Esme didn’t reciprocate: none of her classmates had taken an interest in her before this year, when she’d worked her rear end off to get close to the Elite. She couldn’t let Gemma interfere with this opportunity.

“What materials are you using at the vertices?” Esme asked to test her.

Gemma pulled out a neat list, mapped to corresponding points on her own identical diagram. “Let’s see, oak burl for power, quartz for focus …” Esme admitted, begrudgingly, that it was better than her own. Gemma made being the Elite look so easy that Esme forgot that she was actually, unfairly talented.

As Esme scribbled revisions to the diagram, Gemma talked. Ten percent was useful input to their project and the rest was gossip about their classmates, who was dating who, did she want to come to a party this weekend? At that, Esme looked up.

“I can’t,” she said, “I need to study. We need to ace this project, and then I need to start practicing spells for the practical exam. They need to be perfect to beat yours, as my job is going away next year…” She flushed. She hadn’t meant to say that last part.

Gemma looked surprised that such a thing was possible, then said, “You’re smart, you could get another job if you need to.” Esme didn’t deign to respond. How could a rich girl like her understand her anxiety, her uncertainty? If she fell, there was no net of family or friends to catch her.

Esme wanted to drop the subject there, but Gemma grabbed her hand. Her grip was warm and surprisingly tight. “Look, you’ve got this. We’ve got this. Everyone knows we’re going to be top two in the cohort, and then,” she smiled, “the real fight begins.”

Maybe it was just the expensive perfume, but Esme did feel better after that.


Gemma arrived at the laboratory an hour before midnight and set to work. Their calculations showed that the spell would have the greatest chance of succeeding at that time, and Gemma needed it to succeed. Her mother had been Elite five times at this point, a record that Gemma was still chasing. She knew she could outscore Esme on the practical exam, no matter what Esme thought, and this spell would keep them easily ahead of the rest of the class.

Esme finally appeared and set down her rucksack with a clunk. Already, she oozed anxiety. “You bring the kitchen sink too?” Gemma said teasingly.

“Funny,” Esme replied. “What’ve you done?”

Gemma pointed to the floor. A perfect circle was chalked on the tile, bisected by lines at precise angles to each other. The inert powerstone sat at the exact center. Esme grumbled and placed the candles, crystals, and rocks from her bag at each of the vertices, muttering a spell to fix them in place. Gemma, her job done, touched up her nail polish in preparation for the party tomorrow night. She found her magic worked best if she didn’t overthink things.

After a quadruple-check of the placements, Esme was done. “Ready?” she said.

“Yep.” Gemma took her position on one of the two remaining free vertices. Esme stood at the other one. They could feel the magic potential click into place, like a key in an unlocked but as yet unopened door.

Together, they began to chant the spell-words. Instantly, power flooded into the circle, heavy and hungry as the tide. Gemma loved this part: calling the power and wrangling it into submission. Across the circle, Esme’s brows were pinched in concentration, but Gemma just laughed. The magic responded to her confidence, bent to her and Esme’s combined will. They let more magic flow into the circle, riding the wave of power.

However, they were stronger together than either realized. The wave became a tsunami, bursting free of their control. Gemma frowned. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She redoubled her efforts, wrestling the wild magic. If Esme did the same, surely both of them together would get the spell under control.


Esme’s exhilaration turned to terror as she realized the spell was out of control. Power kept building, faster and faster. Esme strained to hold it within the circle, knowing from her studies the destructiveness of unconstrained magic. Across from her, Gemma wore a determined expression and a bloody nose. Between them, they managed to slow the influx of magic, but could not stop it.

Esme’s instincts of self-preservation, honed from years of living on the outskirts of society and then the Academy, flared. It was simple: if they continued hanging onto this spell, eventually the power would consume them both. If they both let go, the unrestrained magic would shatter the building, probably before they could react. But if one person held onto the magic, the other could let go and have time to summon a shield before the inevitable happened.

Her lizard brain screamed the answer at her, but Esme looked desperately at Gemma, hoping that she had a way out. Despite the blood on her beautiful face, she still exuded confidence, as if everything would work out in her favor because of course it always did for rich girls like her. Esme’s heart broke for her. Gemma finally saw Esme and her eyes widened in fear. “No-” she mouthed.

With an anguished cry, Esme broke away from the spell, stumbling back from the circle. Gemma held on, a spirit of willpower, for a full second before the magic engulfed her. The roar of raw power drowned out her scream. Then, the room exploded.


Esme sat in her bed at the Academy’s ward, staring out the window. In the pale reflection she could see the jagged scars on her face, constant reminders of her choice. The healers had worked miracles just keeping her alive, though most days she wished they hadn’t. Physically, she’d recovered but she couldn’t bear returning to the world, not with her grief so raw.

The awaited knock came at the door, then Professor Folkston came in quietly. Esme braced herself for his judgment. “How are you doing?” he said.

“Fine.” Not true, but there was nothing to be done.

“Good. Then you’ll be ready for your practical exams next week?”

Esme gaped at him. “But Gemma … The third floor was destroyed. I thought I was expelled!”

Professor Folkston cocked his head. “Do you want to leave?”

She paused. “No.” That was the truth.

“Then I expect to see you at the exams next week.” He saw that Esme still didn’t understand, and sighed. “Look, the powerstone assignment is a bit of a trap. At this point students have enough power and knowledge to get themselves in real trouble; they need to exercise good judgment in order to avoid it. Incidents like this happen every few years.”

Her broken heart couldn’t take this revelation. “I let Gemma die, and for nothing! I failed the assignment in every way. I won’t be Elite. How do I go on?” she wailed.

Professor Folkston shrugged. “You have a rare amount of power, you have a place at the Academy. The only person standing in your way is you.”

He left her to make her choice.

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

The Future is Robots?!

Robots are cool. They can be cute, goofy, inept, unsettling, menacing, super-intelligent, or a strange combination (looking at you, unnecessarily violent chess robot).

This week, I'd like stories featuring a robot. Any type of robot and genre of story will do. If you want a flash rule, let me know when you sign up and I'll give you the name of your robot.

1,500 words.

No robo-fanfic, robo-erotica, robo-political screeds, robo-Google Docs, etc.
Sign-ups close 11:59 PST on Friday, 11 November.
Submissions close 11:59 PST on Sunday, 13 November.

My Shark Waifuu

Johnny 5s:
Idle Amalgam
Something Else
The man called M
Sitting Here
Bad Seafood
Quiet Feet
Screaming Idiot

Thanks to a robot for creating the image!

My Shark Waifuu fucked around with this message at 18:59 on Nov 12, 2022

My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Wally Simon

The man called M posted:

In. Flash please.


My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012


My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

Chairchucker posted:

Please name my robot

Your robot's name is Spidertron!


My Shark Waifuu
Dec 9, 2012

dervinosdoom posted:

In and flash!

Autonomous Sampler W-277

Thranguy posted:

In and flasb

Big Bertha

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