FLASH FICTION INDEX 1 - May 2007-Nov. 2011

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Post October 18, 2008, 02:33:36 PM

12/'07 - Holiday Spirit

- Winner -


David A. Jones

Ronny reached for another ornament, one of the dark green ones with the glittery white stars in the center, but it darted away before he could lay a finger on it. It rose level with his head, then began spiraling about him like a tiny planetoid. Two more joined it.

“Tammy, quit orbiting me!” yelled Ronny. He made a grab for one of the decorations, but it danced away from his hand.

“I’m not orbiting you, the ornaments are,” said Tammy, Ronny’s sister. At ten, she was two years older than Ronny and forever teasing him.


Mom poked her head out the kitchen.

“Tammy, stop orbiting your brother and get that tree finished. Your father’s almost home.”

Tammy smiled evilly and sent all three ornaments to hook themselves on the Christmas tree before Ronny could react.

“That’s not fair,” said Ronny.

“Whatever,” said Tammy, suddenly bored with the whole thing.

Mom exited the kitchen, crossed the dinning room where the decorated tree stood – “Good job,” she said as she passed – and opened the front door just as Dad surmounted the porch steps. His arms were laden with festively wrapped Christmas presents.

“’Bout time,” said Mom, smiling.

Dad, face nearly obscured behind the gifts, said, “Well, it takes time to drive all the way to the North Pole and back.”

“You didn’t go to the North Pole,” said Ronny.

“Oh, yeah? Then where’d I go, sport?” said Dad. He always called him sport when he felt Ronny trying to read his thoughts.

“I don’t know,” said Ronny truthfully. Dad was the only person Ronny had ever met whose mind was closed to him.

“So, Santa gave them to me,” said Dad.

“I don’t believe in Santa.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Mom doesn’t.”

“Ronny Wilson, you know it’s impolite to read people’s minds like that,” said Mom.
“Well, you don’t,” said Ronny. “Neither does Mrs. Combinesta across the street or Mr. Brewster, or –“

“Some folks know the truth and some don’t, that’s all,” said Dad, straightening up from arranging gifts under the tree. “Maybe they don’t believe because they’re not gifted like us.”

“I don’t believe in Santa because I’m gifted,” said Ronny. “Grownups don’t believe in him, so neither do I.”

“Santa doesn’t want too many adults knowing about him. He’d never get anything done that way,” said Dad. He grew solemn and said, “Look, would you believe in Santa if you met him?”

“Yeah, but –“

“Alright, then,” said Dad, as he fished his car keys from a pocket. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

With that, he left.

Mom was as perplexed by Dad’s sudden exit as Ronny. Usually he could rely on her thoughts to clear up confusion – adults tended to know what was happening even when they wouldn’t say it aloud – but not this time.

# # #

They made caramel apples to pass the time. While they waited Ronny tried, for the millionth time, to glean the nature of Dad’s abilities from Mom’s mind, but it was no use. She didn’t know.

Even to an eight-year-old that seemed odd. How could they have been married twelve years and she still didn’t know his gifts? Was his power simply keeping his mind locked away from his own son? Ronny thought that a singularly horrible ability.

They had cut the apple pie and were just sitting down to enjoy a few bites when Mom said, “You’re father will be here in a moment. And Tammy, when you’re sixteen you’re going to date a boy named. . . Bradley. Don’t go parking with him, you’ll regret it.”

“Okay, Mom.”

The front door opened. Dad came in followed by a man dressed as Santa Claus. He wore the entire suit, even the boots, belt and cap. His long, silvery hair might have been a wig, but it was a good one.

“Guess who followed me home,” said Dad.

Ronny said nothing, but delved immediately into the man’s mind.

“Who is this?” he asked his voice incredulous.

The fat man’s head was full of strange thoughts and even stranger memories. They were unlike anything Ronny had ever experienced. They felt . . . greasy, it was the only word for it. Reading them was like trying to hold one of those rubber snakes that shoots out of your hand whenever you squeeze it.

The thoughts came in flashes: an urge to take a second look at his lists of naughty and nice, Mom’s apple pie smelled tasty, his current coal distributor had raised prices and he needed to find a new supplier.

Below these surface thoughts lived myriad memories: cavorting reindeer, little men in curly shoes and bright clothes, a matronly Mrs. Claus kissing Santa’s frost bitten cheek after a long Christmas night, a beloved arctic desert that meant home.

“It’s nice to meet you all,” said Santa in a grandfatherly voice. “Is this the boy who doesn’t believe in me?”

“Yep, that’s my boy,” said Dad, smiling.

Santa stuck out his hand. Ronny shook it, feeling dazed.

# # #

Twenty years later:

The phone rang and Ron heard Dad pick up on the other end.

“Hey, Ronny, Mom said you’d be calling.”

“She tell you why?”

“Yep. You need me to do the Santa trick for the kids?”

“Yeah, Carl says he doesn’t believe.”

“Give me an hour, I’ll swing by the mall. You got a few dollars? I hate blanking a man’s memory without giving him a little something.”

“I’ve got fifty. Thanks for this, Dad.”

“No problemo, sport.”

“Hey, I wasn’t trying to –“

“Ronny, I can feel when you try to read my mind.”

“I’m sorry, I just want to know how you do it.”

“Seldom, that’s how. I don’t want folks asking questions.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Just be thankful our family has these little traditions. That’s what makes the season special -- Christmas lights, pumpkin pie –“

“Fooling department store Santas into thinking they’re the real thing?”

“Yeah. Traditions.”

[align=center]The End[/align]
Last edited by kailhofer on July 31, 2010, 12:27:37 PM, edited 2 times in total.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:34:33 PM

01/'08 - The "Accidental" Time Traveler

The challenge was to create a time travel story where the time traveler's arrival had something "accidental" about it.

Example story:

Lila's Date

N.J. Kailhofer

"One more to go." Lila wiggled her freshly painted toenails. She hoped Bill would appreciate the shade. The toilet seat lid was making her butt flat, and her bathrobe wasn't very warm.

6:30. "Making good time." When she finished primping, plucking, and curling, she'd only be an hour late. Bill would still be at the party when she arrived.

She felt the vibration in the lid before she heard the noise. It was like motors or industrial machinery, but far off and muffled, like through the side of an inner tube.

The hairs on her arms stood up straight.

The whole ceiling erupted into white light, so bright she could hardly look.

She heard a male voice, then laughter.


A man in a suit fell through the ceiling, landing face down in the bathtub.

She screamed, scrambling up on the seat.

He didn't move.

After thirty seconds or so, Lila felt embarrassed at her 'girlie' pose and jumped for the door. She ran down the hall to her bedroom where her purse was. Grabbing out the pepper spray with her right hand, she returned to the bathroom. She grabbed the plunger from behind the wastebasket and held it like a club in her left hand while she looked the man over.

"Pinstripes?" she asked herself. "Who wears that?"

The ceiling was back to its normal color.

Lila prodded him with the plunger. "Hey, buddy!"

He groaned.

She jabbed him much harder, and he woke with a start, struggling to his knees and grabbing at the big lump on his forehead. His right eye was swelling.

"Oh, that's quite a goose egg," she mumbled. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

He looked around himself then, as if noticing his surroundings for the first time. Lila felt the man's good eye trace up her long legs and past her hips. His inspection lingered for a moment on her chest before glancing up to her face.

He turned away, as if embarrassed. "Y-You're... not dressed."

Lila glanced down. Nothing was showing, but she drew the sides of her bathrobe tighter anyway. "Who are you?"

"My name is Anders." He had a nasal voice. "Where am I?"

He was young. She wondered if he was even twenty-one. "You're in my bathtub. How'd you get here? The ceiling turned all white and then you fell through."

He looked up at the ceiling. "Martin! He was playing at the controls."

He turned back to her, then averted his eyes again. "What year is this?"

"2008. What kind of question is that?"

He goggled. "My god! Seventy years!"

"Martin!" he yelled to the ceiling. "Martin, it worked! Tell Nikola!"

"Hey!" Lila tapped him with the plunger. "Keep your voice down. Skip back to the point where you tell me what the hell you're doing in my bathroom."

He sat on the edge of the tub. "Martin and I work for this inventor. He made this machine, and, well… we were playing with it while he was gone. We weren't supposed to, but we got this bottle of gin and we were drinking. I didn't know exactly where I was going."

Lila frowned, putting her hands on her hips. "You're trying to tell me you're a time traveler."

He shrugged. "Our boss said that was one of the things it could do."

"And how were you supposed to get back?"

"He was going to give me three minutes, then open the doorway again."

Lila thought hard about it. "There's no hole in my ceiling, and I saw you fall with my own eyes, so I believe you. Anders, what if that door doesn't open again? You could be trapped here, without anyone. If this was at random, that door might never come back."

He blushed. "Well, it wasn't completely at random. Martin said you had nice gams--"

She smacked him with the plunger. "Why, you little pervert! Watching me in the bathroom from the past!"

Lila stopped. "You thought I was pretty?"

He glanced at her, then his eye darted away again. "Martin was the one looking. I had to be by the opening to go through."

She was quiet for a moment. "Would you like to go to a party?"

He turned pale. "I-I wouldn't want to miss my chance at getting back."

She glanced at the clock and slid the pepper spray behind her back. It was now or never. "If what you say is true, the door will open again in a few seconds. How about a kiss before you go?"

He jumped to his feet, nervous. "I-I wouldn't presume... I mean, I've imposed enough."

She stepped closer. "Come on, no strings attached. It's your only chance to kiss a woman from the future."

Just then, the ceiling erupted into brilliant white light once more. A voice called out, "Well, how was she?"

"Martin!" Anders jumped for the ceiling but couldn't get high enough. "Rotate ninety degrees and lower six feet!"

The voice called again, "But how was she?"

Anders looked back at Lila. He cleared his throat. "Uh, unprepossessing. Hurry!"

Lila started. "What?! I was a crossword champion. I know what that means!"

She grabbed at the pepper spray, but the can tumbled into the sink.

The brilliance shimmered away again, then reformed as the wall next to Anders.

She grabbed the can and spun.

Anders leapt, disappearing through the wall of light, which winked out of existence an instant later.

Lila fumed then looked at her oversized nose and crooked teeth in the mirror. "I may not be the prettiest girl at the ball, but Bill's going to notice me tonight, darn it. Even if I have to scratch out the eyes of that trollop he married. Three years of waiting for one's boss is enough."

It occurred to Lila as she put on her third coat of lipstick that she might have been on the receiving end of history's first crank call.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:35:00 PM

01/'08 - The "Accidental" Time Traveler

Heat Wave

J.B. Hogan

“Put it in gear and then give it some gas,” Todd Barton told his sister Caitlin, “nice and easy.”

“Sure,” Caitlin said, doing her best to seem at ease and competent on her brother’s ATV.

Todd had brought his college roommate Duncan down from San Diego to join them for a weekend of running the sand dunes at the far southeastern edge of the Imperial Valley. Caitlin thought this Duncan fellow was pretty nice – and not bad looking, either.

The typical early summer day they had chosen for riding was clear and hot, the sun a yellow scorching mass above the dunes. Heat waves rose from the dun brown dunes and the sky was a washed out blue.

“Come on, Cait,” Todd admonished his sister, “hit it.”

“Alright,” Cait yelled back, “alright.”

More quickly and less smoothly than she had hoped for, Cait shifted the ATV into gear and gave it gas. The vehicle shot forward. While Todd and Duncan watched in amazement, Cait struggled to control the ATV. She shot across a tall dune, managed to turn up towards its top, accelerated more to reach the summit.

Gunning the vehicle to make the last few yards to the crest, Cait noticed a wavering, floating heat wave in front of her. It had an odd, bright light at its center. Unheeding, unhearing, cries to slow down from Todd and Duncan, Cait shot through the heart of the heat wave and cleared the dune’s summit.

“Yeoww,” she cried as the briefly airborne vehicle slammed back down onto the sand.

It landed nose first, the impact simultaneously pitching Cait off the ATV and killing its engine. For a moment Cait lay sprawled on the dune, then rolled over, spitting out hard, salty sand granules. It took another moment for her to regain her wits.

“Crap,” she said, standing and knocking the sand off her hiking shorts.

The ATV was on its side a few feet from the backside of the dune crest. Cait walked to it and after a bit of a struggle got it righted again. The engine started easily. More carefully, she steered the vehicle back to the top of the dune to see where Todd and Duncan were but, strangely, there was no one on the other side of the dune at all.

“What the…,” she said to herself, “where did everybody go?” Turning to look back in the direction of her recent spill, Cait let out a surprised cry.

In the distance, at the end of the dunes, was a huge city, vertical towers driving high into the white-blue sky. There seemed to be some sort of aircraft buzzing around the tall buildings in this peculiar, unexpected apparition. Cait thought perhaps she was seeing a mirage, as the city seemed to float among the burning heat waves rising from the desert floor.

“What is that?” she wondered out loud. “I didn’t know there was any town out here.”

“Intruder at ten o’clock,” a booming voice suddenly called out, causing Cait to jump in the seat of the ATV. “Stand and identify yourself.”

It seemed to Cait that the voice was practically beside her but she didn’t at first see anyone. Then she spotted the vehicles. A half dozen, at least, racing towards her. They looked something like ATVs but moved above the dunes, as if hovering on air. Each carried a large, dark figure dressed in reddish-brown body armor and each of the figures held out a long, dark instrument, aimed at Cait.

“Whoa!” she cried as one of the instruments, clearly a rifle of some sort, fired a silent charge at her.

The sand beside the ATV exploded into the air from the impact of the weapon’s non-metallic round. In rapid succession, several more shots were fired – all near misses. With a yelp, Cait roared across the big dune on which she had crashed, chased doggedly by the pursuers. Maneuvering back and forth faultlessly, she kept just ahead of them as rounds from their weapons continued to dig up the sand all around. Turning to avoid yet another blast, Cait temporarily stalled the ATV. In seconds she was surrounded.

“Stand down,” the same booming, authoritarian voice she’d heard before commanded. It still didn’t seem to come from a specific place. “You have violated Federated space. Identify yourself and surrender to authority.”

Whispering a good luck mantra, Cait restarted the ATV and looked for an escape route. There was a space between two of the chase vehicles just to her left. Smoothly shifting the four-wheeler into gear and then hammering the gas, Cait shot the gap. Sand showered her from weapon blasts, but she drove on hard, back towards the top of the big dune. Approaching the crest from behind, she saw the heat wave again, the bright light was still in its center.

With the trailing hunters right behind her, Cait cleared the top of the dune and sped through the center of the wavering image. In an instant she was back on familiar ground. There was Todd and Duncan waiting for her at the bottom of the dune. Behind her – no one.

“Holy cow,” Todd cried, “where did that come from?”

“What?” Cait asked, shifting the ATV into neutral and taking a deep breath. She cast a quick, nervous look back up at the tall dune.

“You’re driving … it was…,” Todd began.

“Amazing,” Duncan finished.

“Where did you go?” Todd asked.

“Over the dune,” Cait answered, smiling at Duncan.

“You seemed to disappear up there,” he said. “It was as if you went off into another world.”

“As if,” Cait said, checking out the dune a final time.

There was nothing there now. No one was coming after her. She couldn’t tell the guys about it anyway, they’d think she was crazy.

“As if,” she repeated, letting the incident drop from her consciousness as quickly as it had come and then gone. “Another world indeed.”

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:36:13 PM

01/'08 - The "Accidental" Time Traveler

Chance Madonna

David Alan Jones

On the road to St. Petersburg Michel was stopped by a white light spilling from heaven. His horse, normally an even-tempered beast, reared, throwing the young man from the saddle. It galloped away into a nearby orchard as light filled Michel's world.

He raised a hand, uttering a cry as the light became too much to bear. Then it was gone, and the quiet, late summer evening was as before.

A woman stood in the muddy road. She wore a white dress, skirted at the thigh, with a top that covered only her left breast. Her golden hair hung in rivulets below her slim, pale shoulders and massed on her head like a glowing crown. Upon her feet she wore strange sandals with leather thongs crisscrossing upwards to her knees. She was the cleanest, purest thing he had ever seen.

This toothsome vixen looked into Michel's eyes and smiled.

"Who are you? Are you a goddess?" asked the stunned man.

The woman laughed.

"No, honey. I'm Gladys Brown from Atlanta. Isn't this Athens? Where's the Parthenon?"

"I don't understand you, goddess. What language do you speak?"

"That stupid travel agent," said Gladys. "She didn't even give me a reverse translator. And this sure isn't Greece." She fiddled with a strange bracelet on her wrist. "BF'ing Russia! That's the last time I use Tara's Temporal Tours. I knew I should have listened to my sister. She said, 'Gladys, go see Christ born, you'll have wonderful time’, but no, I had to see the orgies."

The strange goddess stamped her foot and tinkered with her bracelet again. The heavenly light returned for a moment, and just as suddenly, was gone.

Michel kneeled in the dirt to pray that God might reveal the meaning of this vision.

Twenty five years later, as Arch Bishop of Her Holiness the Blessed Madonna Church, Michel still knelt at the alter every day to pray for revelation about that long ago vision. For some reason, the meaning never came.

The End
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:36:52 PM

01/'08 - The "Accidental" Time Traveler



I have seen the future, in Black & White. How do I know this? First I have to explain my methods. There I was, wandering along, basking in temporal stability. I stopped to eat at one of those lovely oriental restaurants where they pack three countries' worth of flavor into an external structure approximating Dr. Who's Tardis.

In this particular humble joint, I discovered a large tome propping up the leg of a rickety table. Declaring a Book Swap in effect, I replaced it with a large tome of my own, ordered, and settled down to study my new treasure. It was a documentary from an Alternate Future, which I visited for seven hours spanning breakfast & lunch. What I learned: Barack Obama won't win the Presidency in 2008. The document is a study of the Presidency of America's first African American President following a President disgraced by scandal. It ends in an impeachment trial.

(Hillary won't win either, but that's just me making a bar bet that the strident wife of a former prez isn't the female equivalent of FDR who can force that kind of political precedent.)

Time travel is a Funny subject for all values of Funny. The paradox is, of course, that no one can "directly alter the historical past". This doesn't stop entertainers from making scads of money pretending. But that's why the money flows - because we know that it IS pretense, and it makes us feel safe at a subterranean, visceral level.

The famous phrase that the future is unwritten is completely true. It's that free will theme again. The only qualifying factor whether the influence you can throw at that future can overcome the inertia of that future. This is why Billionaires are fun to watch - because a Billion Dollars can do just about anything, including affixing lasers to sharks.

Anyone, at any moment, can create a chosen future at the micro level. "Oh yea, I'm gonna live on the edge, I'm gonna' take the risk... I'm going to buy THREE bottles of Mountain Dew! Why? Because I need to enable the future, the one when I'm gonna NEED that third bottle."

Excuse me for a moment while I retrieve it.

"But that's not exciting", you say.

Bang - there's the problem with most entertainment depictions of the future - that there somehow has to be an excitement level greater than the present "real" world. Unfortunately, futures don't work that way.

Wouldn't it be exciting to have the first Black President? Maybe. For a year. Then it would tear the country apart, because it will expose some long-suppressed issues our country is not ready to face.

The future is a problem of Information. If I took a vacation for a week and stayed in the hotel room the entire time, the *local* future is easy to predict. It's a matter of controlling the variables. The better the variables are studied for any potential future, the easier it is to visit it. Then all you have to do is learn something, and bring that knowledge back to operate in the Present.

I am holding a 740 page study of the effects of a Black President. It was written forty-three years ago, so some of the variables are out of synch. When these variables are corrected against present trends and mapped to current probabilities, the Prediction Curve becomes hyperbolic by 2012. Let's explore why.

Back when the professional extrapolators were working in 1991, there was a small recession. No one was exactly sure how it was going to go away. Politics-As-Usual forced George H. W. Bush out of office, because that was "the thing to do" to incumbent presidents during recessions just before elections. (Or maybe they wanted to change Southern accents coming from the White House.) By 1996, the recession was over and the reasons were clear - the Information Age was finally here. People were going to work at jobs that never existed, creating brand new value. Value creation solves recessions.

In 1996, someone visited the future and didn't like it. An 875 page document ensued, which warned against the event we now know as Nine-Eleven. In that future, the entire government was obliterated, and national panic resulted. The warning sold a lot of copies, and so traveled through the cultural memory. By the time the real event occurred, the plane bound for the White House/Capitol was forced into the ground. I found that one during one of my bulk acquisitions, sandwiched between a printout of a web blog's study of feeding cactus plants Coca Cola (they live, because it's just sugar & a soil acidity enhancer), and a copy of Arthur Clarke's Sands of Mars.

Now another such event is upon us. One future of the first Black President was foreseen, and it culminated in an impeachment trial. The telling point is this - the vision is set with *the first Black President following an entrenched insider disgraced through scandal*. What the country needs after scandal is a period of quiet in which to recover. Then, when the country has regained some social cohesion, it will be ready to make the effort necessary to move the institution of the Presidency into the 21st Century.

Make no mistake - a Black President is in our near future. Just not in 2008.

[center]The End[/center]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:37:19 PM

01/'08 - The "Accidental" Time Traveler

- Winner -

Serendipity is a Happy Accident?

G.C. Dillon

She awakes in darkness. She looks to the night sky to search out the Great Bear constellation. It always leads her home, but it is not there; there are no stars. No trees. There is a canopy above her much like the roof of her Father's bark longhouse in Werowocomoco. That is her Father's capitol. He is Wahunsunacock, a weroance of her people, a chief, most powerful leader of the entire land. So she is, in fact, an 'Indian Princess'.

A man stands before her. She guesses he is the age of the man she is prepared to marry. He smiles to her. His skin is pale, and a thick mustache and (what he would call a VAN DYKE) beard covers his chin. He wears a blue cape (or should that be LAB COAT?) the color of bay water. She tentatively whispers, “Winkápew, nitáp.”

A loud voice fills the other's longhouse. It is powerful. Crisp. Like her Father speaking as chief. Authority incarnate. Commands unquestioned.


“Hello, my friend,” the man says in words she knows. His voice is sweeter, kinder she thinks. “Your being here is an accident. Or at least we call it an accident. I'm sure the reason is buried in the cold equations of the physics. Beneath a Sigma 9X-squared or a trinomial expression (the translator hesitates, UKNOWN).”

He stumbles a moment speaking with her. In his culture, she is a year less of a teenager; in hers, she is a young women. Both are just barely adults to their peers. He is a graduate student intern. His acne is worse than hers, which he uncomfortably notices.

“Wasn't planed at any rate. We can't plan it. It's random. We sent someone back in time, so someone or something has to balance it out by coming here. Not always a person, sometimes a plant or animal. It's like a lottery. You should have seen the pterodactyl (the translator hiccups before stating: LEATHERY WINGED CREATURE) we got once. Well, maybe better you shouldn't 've.

“Oh yeah, my name's Joss.” He holds out one hand. She jumps back, but he is not truly threatening.

“I am Matoak,” she says.

“We have some time to kill. Oh, no pun! I am allowed to show you around. To show you the wonders tomorrow brings. Come on.”

The solid flap of the room hisses open, sounding like a angry, slithering snake. They walk out into the corridor. “We can use the glass tram, but not travel in it,” he says. Another flap cycles open with the sound of a loud Summer wind. The panorama of his city spreads out before her. Tall, long buildings crowd the view. These are so like her Father's longhouse stood upon one end. Strange giant birds fly about. Their wings do not flap or beat. Towering stone pipes billow out white smoke, like a winter fire of burning chicory or palmetto. Ants – what must be ants – walk upon two legs only.

“Sorry,” he says, “it's not the best side of the laboratory. We have the fuel cell factories and their smokestacks. The cells may be pretty green, but the hydrogen extraction process is powered by some ungreen sources. Even with the Clean Coal, they wreak havoc with the shell-fish beds, I'm told.”

She knocks upon the clear surface. “It's steelglass.” (The translator brain-farts again. TRANSPARENT IRON.)

“Is this my Tenakomakah?” she asks. (THE TIDEWATER, the computer translates.)

“Yeah, water's the main ingredient going in and going out of a fuel cell.” He laughs at a joke she cannot understand even with the aid of the translator.

“Where are the four-legged people?” Matoak asks.

“Oh, we've got zoos. Even big preserves. The (ANIMALS) are fine. I wish I could bring you to the Washington Zoo. You'd love it!”

“Where is my home? Where is Werowocomoco?”

“There,” he says, “it's there.”

[align=center]* * *[/align]

She awoke into the brightness of Spring daylight. It was just a dream, she told herself. Thank the Great Spirit! She gazed up to the sun, but a shadow fell upon her. She turned her head to see the old woman who had raised her. Her people had no queen, and her mother had been sent far away upon her birth. This aged one sufficed. Mostly.

“Matoak, your father needs you. Do you know what he requires?”

“Yes,” she said. “My Uncle Opechancanough has captured one of the the newcomers. I am to throw myself across the stranger to protect his life.”

“Very good. It will be his death and his birth to our people.”

[align=center]* * *[/align]

The stranger was thrust upon a large rock. He lay across it. His coat fell open, and his soiled white shirt stood out. His eyes grew wide as he scanned about the capitol of the Powhatan, and wider still as he focused upon Kocoum, her future husband. In his hands, he carried the foot long hickory shaft of his tumahák. One end had a stone axehead that she had seen him chip himself. The other end was hollow to allow the drinking of tobacco. It was a peace pipe and tomahawk together: the two sides of a relationship, friend or adversary.

The newcomer looked like Joss, the pale man of her visions, but with a heavier beard. The man who had shown her the wonders of the day after tomorrow's tomorrow's sunrise. Matoak ran between her betrothed and the newcomer. Kocoum raised his weapon as if to club her.

“Pocahantas,” the Powhatan said, calling his daughter by her childhood nickname for her wanton nature. “What do you do?” It was all for his staged plan for the stranger from the island across the water. She thought of her vision before answering.

“We cannot let this man live. His people cannot despoil our land. Chief Powhatan, my father. Kill John Smith!”

[align=center]THE END[/align]
Last edited by kailhofer on October 19, 2008, 03:28:02 PM, edited 1 time in total.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:38:19 PM

02/'08 - Space-Based "Mom & Pop" Shop

The challenge was to use a "Mom & Pop" space-related business as a backdrop for a story. Stories were required to include an unpleasant individual/event and a hitherto unknown kind of candy.

Example story:

Mom & Pop's Space Travel, LLC

N.J. Kailhofer

"Mom, you have those sandwiches ready?"

Aggie raised her eyebrows at her husband. "Harold, when have I not? Do you have the paperwork finished so they can get underway?"

Harold resumed putting his chicken scratches on the pad of forms.

She smiled at the newlyweds on the other side of the counter. "Don't you worry, dears. We'll get you all fixed up."

The young wife spoke up. "Sandwiches? I thought the brochure said fine dining."

She clucked her tongue. "Oh, hon, the boat's kitchen is fully stocked. Ever been weightless before? No? Most folks' stomachs are a bit queasy. Good old comfort food the first day, that's the ticket."

Harold patted the bag. "Aggie's PB&Js and a couple of raspberry wobblers to suck on are just what you need, trust me. Been doing this for--for how long now, Mom?"

"Close on fifty-four years." She scolded, "The same number we've been married, Harold."

The new husband looked at this wife. "Hope we're still together after that long."

She hugged his arm and smiled, like they all did.

Aggie watched Harold shuffle down the hall, taking the couple to the dock. She knew they thought they'd be in for a romantic time of it, making it the whole way, but by the time they actually got used to the weightlessness, their week would be just about over. Still, without these birds renting their boats, she and Harold would have been out of business long ago. Wasn't like the old days, when the station was new, and those big liners weren't running.

Harold was shaking his head when he came back. "I bet I wind up having to go get those two. Neither one of them were ever in a magsail before. No idea how it worked. Fella doesn't want to admit it, I can tell."

"There's always the autopilot."

"And I showed him how to use it three times, but I don't expect much."

Aggie shrugged. "Just as long as we don't have to hose it out again."

The desk bell rang behind them.

Inspector Graal hissed between his fangs, the closest his kind came to a friendly greeting.

"Manifests. Now."

Graal grabbed the clipboard out of Harold's hands and flipped the pages. When he found the one he wanted he tore it out and threw it on the counter in front of them.

"Return. Autopilot override."

Aggie glanced down at the sheet. "No, we won't."

Rage shuddered from every inch of Graal, his muscles flexing into a combat stance.

"Whoa, there," Harold interjected, stepping in front of his wife. "What she means is we can't do that. It would be illegal."

Graal resumed his normal surly pose. "Explain."

Aggie stepped out from behind her husband. "The Freedom of Movement Act of 2219 prohibited computer control that couldn't be overridden without consent of the pilot. It was right after those AIs tried to take control of everything. We can’t bring Mr. Smythe back without his ok unless he misses his payment, in which case he's no longer the rightful operator."

"Wanted. Smuggler."

Harold tapped the sheet. "Indigo credit line with the Bank of Earth, as you can see."

Graal paused, then smiled.

The effect of the smile shook Harold to his loafers. "What?"

"Provide transport. Intercept. Graal arrest."

Aggie put her hand on her husband's arm. "Better take him."

Harold shrugged. "Whatever you say, Mom."


Harold gently tapped out the rhythm of an old tune against the buckle of the harness that held him in the pilot's chair. Floating in midair next to him, Graal appeared flustered by the weightlessness.

"Raspberry wobbler?" Harold offered, popping one into his mouth.

The noise Graal made reminded him of an angry tiger, so he moved his hand out of easy biting range.

A beep brought his attention back to the panel.

"We're now crossing the Free Space border, which is the edge of your jurisdiction, Inspector. Mr. Smythe's ship is just past that. Your warrants are no good."

Graal's claws clenched. "Engage! Catch!"

Harold sucked hard on his candy. "I'll have to go at him from the side to keep the sails from hitting. If you look out the door, you should see him."

Graal peered through the narrow window slot on the door.

Harold took a deep breath and clenched his eyes shut.

A thunderclap shook the ship as the hatchway blew out.

Hurricane-force winds howled through the doorway.

Graal's claws dug into the ceramic of the doorframe, holding him fast. Through the maelstrom, he roared his death challenge at Harold.

Harold jammed his fingers in his ears and prayed his harness would keep him in place.

A broom swung down from above the outside of the hatch, breaking across Graal's snout. The Inspector lost his grip and tumbled into open space.

The abrupt silence of vacuum surprised Harold. He wanted to look around but dared not open his eyes. His skin was pins and needles all over. All too soon, his lungs burned.

A gloved hand touched his arm, and he felt something start to slide over his head. He yanked the helmet down as fast as he could. A moment later, he heard the hiss of air.

"You ok?" a voice asked.

Harold opened his eyes.

Aggie smiled back at him through her spacesuit's helmet. "I closed the door. In a couple of minutes we'll be all pressurized again."

"He gone?"

She nodded. "I recorded it all from outside. He ordered you to attack a legal ship in Free Space. Clear piracy. We're covered. Those wobblers do their job?"

Harold smiled. "Kept my tissues full of oxygen. You were right as rain, dear."

Aggie turned to watch the body of the inspector as it tumbled away. "That was my favorite broom."

"Indigo credit doesn't come by that often."

She patted his shoulder. "The Ratherford's will be in at 3, and we'll need this boat cleaned and stocked for two weeks by then."

Harold chuckled. "Honeymooners. God bless 'em."

[center]The End[/center]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:39:50 PM

02/'08 - Space-Based "Mom & Pop" Shop

Blue Light Special

G.C. Dillon

Sean Irizarry's eyes scanned his status board, searching out any red danger lights. All green: go for entry. He fired the hydrazine monopropellent rockets to angle his spacecraft toward the surface, and then flicked the toggle switch to extend the airfoils and turn his spaceship into a spaceplane.

“Whadd'ya do that for?” Ubuntu sputtered, his black face scowling.

“Oh, reflex. I saw the blue stratosphere.”

“That's not an atmosphere; that's a rock farting.” A faint cerulean haze floated about the surface of Zohartze. Ubuntu was correct. The gas was too thin to be called air, even air made mostly out of methane outgassing from the planetary body. This rocky satellite orbited its primary vertical to the Solar plane within Neptune's rings. The huge visage of the Water-God's planet filled its sky of heavily salted, pepper black, forever night. It was as big as the North-Eastern seacoast of America – the size of New England, New York, and New Jersey. Throw in Nova Scotia too if you would like. That all made sense to the navigation computer and its Solar Positioning System. It also was logical to Irizarry who could read the map co-ordinates facilely even though i (the imaginary square-root of -1) was included in the spacial notations.

Irizarry also knew how far Earth was, how many days travel would bring him home. He was acutely aware because the homeworld was currently on the far side of the Sun, precluding any video-mail blip-transmission. He only hoped his girlfriend had not found anyone else to go to the holograms with, or to watch the earthrise over the Sea of Tranquility.

Ubuntu and Irizarry's spacecraft was a supply heavy lifter out of the Mannaman Mac Lir. That ship was a long range cruiser, hauling cargo and passengers to the outer planets. The two spacers had spent months crowded onto the artificial biosphere with pioneers for Europa, and then enjoyed a more comfortable angled flight here to the other blue planet in the Solar System.

The Mannaman was owned by a Fortune 1000 company, but Ubunta and his dirtbound stockholders rented warehouse space on the large ion-powered floating city. Most of their clients were also independent businesses: mom and pop operations. Or in this case, Moon and Poppy, their customers on Zohartze.


A small sign reading Provisions & Dry Goods hung above the airlock. Zohartze had a positive gravity; that is if you dropped something, it would fall, even if too slowly for even the Lunar trained eye. So, Irizarry knew enough to to keep a close grasp on his ale. Poppy gave one free drink to the space haulers, hopping for a costly second round. She did this in a small cordoned off corner of her shop. Actually it was Moon and Poppy's. Poppy was a dusky, little Pastoon woman. Moon was a tall Asian with straight, long black hair and slanted eyes. They were partners in ways not associated with their business too.

Ubuntu nursed his small single malt Scotch. Poppy's magnetic boots clip-clopped over to their tiny table.

“Here's the receipt for the remittance transfer. Every Yuan counts when you're a small business.”

Ubuntu grunted in agreement. He had his own venture. “You'll resell it all.” He pointed a thumb toward a Ringminer standing by the main counter, and Moon.

Irizarry's eyes looked in the direction. Other famous dwarfs were named Sneezy, Sleepy, even Sleazy , but this one must have been called Stout. A long blond ponytail trailed down his short environmental shellsuit. A miner's axe-pike hung down his back. Poppy stomped over to the short man with another set of papers.

“Here you go, Blaque,” Poppy said, handing over a yellow packslip for his order. “You're good to go on loading bay 5.”

“We no sell. We no sell,” Moon yelled, coming out from behind her counter, and kicking a crate of candy toward Ubuntu. It slid across the floor, stopping at the miner's feet.

“You can keep it,” Ubuntu said, his brain calculating two things – first the weight/distance price ratio to bring it back, and second, the fact that if Blaque liked it, he could get Moon to order it. The short man read the label on the side of the case.

“It's candy?” Blaque asked.

“Yeah, chewing gum. Made of 100% recycled materials.”

“Recycled gum? Ooo.” Poppy made a face.

“Not recycled gum, recycled plastics,” Irizarry interjected. “Plastic doesn't bio-degrade, or at least doesn't break down in human time. The organic-chemical companies developed their own microorganisms to do the job. These things aren't allowed back on Earth. The first designer genome was back in twenty-oh-eight, I think. Anyway, big plastic dumps are scattered about Luna. Artificial microbes cannot operate on Earth – only in safe zones. These artificial genome plants recycle the carbon strings. And bam, you got candy.”

“Gum,” Ubuntu corrected.

The Ringminer picked up the box and headed for the airlock. “Gotta pull some Hyperion isotope outta these rocks to pay for all these goodies,” he said.

“Careful Blaque. New Faithful's about to outgas. Every ninety minutes, you know.” Blaque cycled out the airlock.

“Whoa!” cried Irizarry. He was staring out a porthole at the barren surface of Zohartze.

The miner's case of candy began to bulge at the sides. An azure foam burst out from inside the box. It covered the miner. It ate away at the plastic components in his shellsuit. The hose connecting his atmosphere supply dissolved away. The blue foam blew away like debris in a March wind as the air exploded out.

“Blaque!” yelled Poppy. The dark woman ran for the airlock, grabbing her own suit. Moon placed one slender hand on her partner's arm. “Too late. You no can help. I so sorry.”

“The methane gas had to have done something to the microbes.” Irizzary thought.



Poppy's next video-mail was sent to her lawyers on Callisto.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:40:14 PM

02/'08 - Space-Based "Mom & Pop" Shop

Little House in the Asteroid Belt

Bill Wolfe

Dear Diary, big doins today. A bad storm came up from Old Sol and our receiver's down till Pa can get to the trading post at 1 Ceres for spare parts. If Ma hadn't called over to Mrs. Halverson on the lasercomm for her gossip, we wouldn't have known until it was too late. She quilted herself a program that tells her when the other homesteads are line-of-sight so she can 'chat.' I bet Pa never teases her about it ever again. Ma's quilting is almost as famous as her molasses chews. Nobody has her knack for growing sugar cane in the hydroponics.

When she told Pa about the storm, I could see him trying to figure whether he'd have time to stable all the grazers before they got fried. She offered to take the mule out to Payload but everybody knows that storms are hard on babies when they're still small in the belly, so he let me go do it. The mule's easy to ride. With only one CO[sub]2[/sub] thruster even an Earther could steer it. But Pa looked me square in the face for a long time and then he said: "You can do it, Half-Pint. Just make sure you check for rad and get back in plenty of time." My tummy felt funny when he said that, kind of high-up and in the middle.

He told Ma to get the storm cellar ready, then he took the wagon out to the South Range to tend the iridium grazers first. I was real excited about riding the mule till I saw the look on Ma's face when he'd gone. They'd been talking all season about how important this crop was going to be. With a new baby on the way, Pa was planning on moving the whole house over to Payload once he'd had a chance to sell the eggs, especially the platinum eggs from his 'lucky' rock. If he had to buy a whole new herd because of the storm, I don't know what we'd do.

I'd heard them talking, at night. The homestead is so small that I hear lots of things at night. Pa said that we were about to 'turn the corner' on the farm. That after ten years of hard work we were almost out of debt and about to start pulling ahead. They told us in school that was why the big corporates couldn't graze the asteroids. You can't pay folks enough to work sixteen-hours, seven days a week and barely make enough to eat and keep the air-recyclers working. But folks who wanted to leave the crowds and sickness of Old Earth and be pioneers could do it.

My job was the two grazers in Payload, but I guess I'm going to have to get used to calling it our house. Pa set two of his oldest, dumbest grazers to hollow-out the nickel-iron asteroid that got them through that first hard season, before I was born. I haven't been out there in a while and from what I can tell, they're almost done. I still can't believe I'm going to get my own room in the new house. The space inside the first compartment—Ma calls it our parlor—is bigger than our whole homestead.

With just a small hole where the airlock goes, it was kind of creepy being inside there by myself. The parlor is done, so I had to go in deeper to find the grazers. It was really dark till I remembered to turn on my helmet lights. I hardly ever need them, most times Big Jove is bright enough to see by, when I'm outside.

It's funny, Diary. The homestead is cramped, smelly and almost all metal everywhere you look. Since it's what's left of a mine-scout actually built on Old Earth, it's not even shaped right. Everything is up and down, which don't really make any sense out here. The big empty spaces in Payload should have made me feel free, like I could stretch-out in every direction but when I was inside there all alone, I just felt tiny. I felt like one of Ma's little dolls put in her hope chest all by itself with the lid closed. It was strange and I didn't like it.

I stabled the first grazer fine but had to wait for the "Shutdown Complete" on the second. It told me its "High Value" compartment was full and asked if I wanted to "Harvest" now. This was the oldest grazer we have. It's twice as big as the others but it's slower and dumber than an Earther. It was busted, but Pa traded a whole batch of Ma's molasses chews and some household-chores programs she quilted for it. It only took him a week to get it working, so he said it was worth it.

I didn't know what else to do so I pushed "Yes." I could feel some gears grinding 'cause I had my hand on its belly. I thought it was busted again and was worried about what Pa would say when I noticed a hatch on the bottom was open. Pa had said he didn't understand all of what this grazer did, so he just set it to digging holes.

Diary, inside was the biggest diamond I've ever seen! Big as my fist! There ain't much lenticular carbon out here, it's mostly from comets from out in the Oort. It probably took this grazer a hundred years to collect and egg this much diamond dust. No wonder it was so slow.

Pa made it back from the North Forty in plenty of time. Ma was worried and checked his dosimeter before he even had his boots off. She laughed when she told him there might be more young'uns after all. They think I don't understand them when they talk like that. But I'm not a baby.

I haven't told them about the diamond, yet. It's almost Christmas, after all.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:40:41 PM

02/'08 - Space-Based "Mom & Pop" Shop

Best to Keep Moving

Lee Alon

Uncle Chen was talking to a customer.

Well, maybe his mouth was talking to the customer, but his head was all over Auntie Chen Number 3.

She was his latest wife – a fresh import from Tulsa, and had only recently taken the name Chen legally.

Auntie Chen Number 3 was quite the looker – and the customers took notice.

She was tall, slender and overall very attractive, which made talking to people at the small convenience store all the more troublesome.

How can a man be expected to focus when someone else was busy eyeing his wife?

“Auntie Chen, could you please go in the back and see if we’re still good on Fyber Punk?”

She gave him a puzzled look.

“Uncle Chen, I believe we’re out of that and that in the month I’ve been here no one’s ever asked for it, anyway.”

What a nuisance.

“Please check, now?”

He was borderline yelling.

She went in the back room.

The customer sent Chen a screwy look.

“Everything alright, Chen?” the man asked.

“Yes, just that she’s new on the colony and in the store, she doesn’t quite have it yet.”

The customer gave him an understanding nod.

“Well, now that we’re more or less alone again, do you have those pulse rifles?”

“Let me guess, in the forty watt range, right?”

“Cute, Chen. No, I’m serious, those were supposed to be here last week.”

Uncle Chen agreed.

“Yes, they were supposed to, but the mule got caught coming out of Sol System. Don’t worry, they’ll send more. You’re here all the time, correct?

Just as the customer was about to concur, Chen’s Tulsa pick came out of the storeroom with a grin on her face.

“Look, Chen, the lady’s happy here after all! Listen, I’ll be back for those cigars later, alright?”

“Sure thing, man, safe travels”, added Chen as the customer exited.

He turned to his new wife.

“Auntie Chen, what is the grin for, please do tell?”

“Uncle Chen, I stand corrected. There was one Fyber Punk in there after all. How did you know?”

“I haven’t had the license for this place for over ten years for nothing, dear.”

“Nor did you go through three women in that time span for nothing, either, darling!”

“That’s clever. Please put this thing somewhere someone might actually pay for it. Is it expired by any chance?”

Auntie looked at the crinkly confection and reported the product still very much go for the next five Earth years.

Great, thought Chen – even out here between star systems luck tends to side with the mundane and mediocre.

Just as the thought cleared his mind and he was about to conjure something else for the wife to do, out from the steady trickle of people beyond the door emerged another patron, announced by the usual buzzing of the entrance.

Chen looked at the guy and smelled trouble.

No, literally, this one smelled foul – like something was rotting inside him.

It came off his body and in his breath – even Auntie Chen noticed, stuck there among the shelves with the Fyber Punk in hand, just staring at the recent arrival.

The customer was a big person, much bigger than average.

He was dressed like a crewmember – but not of something fancy, rather something rancid.

Like one of those terrible barges the companies used to transport building materials to new colonies.

Chen hated those ships – their crews were always dirty and always looking for something he had no incentive to stock.

But this one was clutching at his stomach, and Uncle Chen’s healthy intuition told him in advance what the man’s wide relief confirmed when he set his eyes on Auntie Chen and the Fyber Punk.

“*** it, this is what I need! How much for that?”

The huge customer was wincing with evident pain in his gut.

“Fifteen credits”, said the Auntie.

Chen and the customer both looked at her.

That was ten times the MSRP printed right on the wrapper.

“Sir, is she an employee?”

“She’s my wife”, replied Chen.

“And that’s our last one, you want it you need to pay up”, added Auntie Chen Number 3.

“You’re being ridiculous, lady. This is an emergency, I got something blocking my stomach and it hurts. Mister, tell her not to play games, I don’t have fifteen credits on me.

“We take plastic and virtual”.

“Honey, please give the candy bar over so I can sell it to the man for the right price, OK?”


The customer’s expression changed.

He was no longer wincing – his face became a mask of madness right before Chen’s unbelieving eyes.

The huge man was more than a man – and he also appeared to furnish a compact pulse rifle from his coveralls.

The sudden movement unleashed another spate of smelly unpleasantness.

“Lady, give the Fyber Punk over or I shoot you and the man here, I’m not playing!”

“No – why do you need it so bad?”

“This thing inside me, it wants fiber, lots of fiber, or it will come out!”

“Let it”, she said.


With a scream, the man opened up on Auntie Chen Number 3 from Tulsa.

She dropped, most of her faster than the Fyber Punk – Chen always suspected those didn’t have the advertised fiber content.

As the enormous man turned to fire at him, Chen noticed a change in the pitch of his rage-scream.

Then it stopped.

The guy stopped, also falling to the floor.

Chen went over to his body, which was already bubbling over with rapid decomposition.

He picked up the guy’s rifle, and very quickly was forced to use it on some horrible wormy thing that remained in the hissing mess – a thing that was going for Chen’s face, no less.

As he waited for the cops to come, Chen’s first call was to his contact on Earth.

Time for Auntie Number 4.


[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:42:04 PM

02/'08 - Space-Based "Mom & Pop" Shop

A Change is as Good as a Rest

Gareth D. Jones

The respectable-looking man in the dark grey travel suit stalked along the row of display cases, his iron grey hair and pallid complexion giving him the air of somebody perpetually shrouded in fog. His face was lined, but not heavily so. Just enough to make him look learned, or experienced perhaps. He looked decidedly younger than the usual clientele.

“Can I help?” Cassie asked him, years in the business making her cautious about this one. He didn’t fit the profile. Her tone made Dan look up from his figures. Years of marriage had made him sensitive to every nuance of her voice.

“Yes,” the man replied, drawing out the vowel in a way that was somehow sinister. “How soon can you fit me in?”

Cassie glanced at the clock, though she new perfectly well there was plenty of time for a treatment before closing time. Dan nodded at her and came out from behind the counter.

“We’re free this afternoon,” he said. “Did you have anything in particular in mind?” he gestured along the row of cadavers preserved in pristine clear cases. The man pondered a moment as if uncertain, though Cassie could tell he was already committed. Something was driving the man, and whatever it was, it was unlikely to be good.

“We’ve been in the business twenty three years,” she said, “we’re family run, and all work carries a life-time guarantee.” It was a familiar patter to re-assure their usual customers who were normally quite shaken and unsure of themselves. Waking at the end of a long voyage to find that your cryosleep capsule has malfunctioned and you now look a hundred and ten can do that to you.

“I’d like this one,” the man decided, pointing at a rugged looking chap in his thirties with tightly curled black hair and prominent jaw. Convicted murderer, Cassie recalled. Mindwiped and put on ice three weeks earlier.

“A good choice,” she said. “Come through to the waiting room where we can take you through some preliminaries.”

She soon had their new client comfortable in a reclining chair while she asked several pertinent questions about his medical history.

“Have one of these mint soporigums to chew,” she said. “It’ll help you relax.” Dan bustled into the room as she was handing it over.

“No, no,” he said, “the mint is horrid. Take a fruit flavoured gum instead.” The grey man took the proffered sweet and slipped it into his mouth. Cassie moved away slowly.

“I’ll get everything ready,” she said.

Their customer quickly relaxed and fell asleep. His heart slowed, and stopped.

“What was it?” Cassie asked.

“I checked his image on the nets,” Dan replied. “He’s not come in off any flight. He’s an escaped convict. Slavery, torture, multiple murder, over in Istravia.”

“No extradition,” Cassie nodded understanding. “Much better this way.” She turned back to the silent figure in the chair. “Let’s get him sorted then.”


A while later the door to the shop opened and a young man in trendy felt kimono and fur-lined sandals entered.

“Hi mom, hi dad,” he said, walking across the shop to the door at the back that lead to their apartment. He paused. “New cadaver? Looks a bit old to me.” He walked on, not giving the new grey resident another glance in it’s gleaming display case.

“To somebody, he’ll look young,” Dan said, thinking of the ill-fortuned passengers that usually entered their shop. Cassie smiled up at him fondly.

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Post October 18, 2008, 02:42:29 PM

02/'08 - Space-Based "Mom & Pop" Shop

- Winner -

Bill & Harriet's

N.J. Kailhofer

"Hon, it's time to milk."

Harriet tried to squeeze the last pungent dregs of coffee from the tube. "It's too early. Not even 3 a.m. yet."

"Those cows aren't going to milk themselves. Aphelion One's launch date moved up, so if we want our cheeses on the trip, we need to start a big batch."

She knew she didn't need to see Bill's face to know there was that grin on it, the same one he had the day she met him all those years ago, sitting on the fence between their yard and his family's pasture.

"You, " she said toward the empty hatchway, "can't count what we've got in that back room as cows. Not really."

His voice called from the next room. "They still need milking, love."

"Fine." She floated after the voice, gliding into the room called The Creamery, the heart of their small business. The thought made her chuckle. It's more like Frankenstein's lab, with all these organs racked around the room. People don't like to talk about it, but we're the heart of the station and every mission to Mars, no matter how Rupert advertises his fancy zeoponics next door. Fresh cheese makes people feel like they're back home and that's worth more than gold.

She floated through her routine like she had so many days before, starting the nutrient flow and suction lines. The bulk tank came in from the cold, sterilizing vacuum outside, and was wiped down.

"You gonna help with this?" she called out.

Bill muttered something from the next room about arranging another ice allotment when the load arrived from the lunar mine.

Harriet shrugged. He was a better cheese maker.

She found herself staring at Aida, her top producer. Bill hated it when she named them, but somehow never remembered they were the same names as his families' cows. She remembered them all from the first time she watched him milk, even though they were just kids. Strong and handsome, she thought he was, and more than a little shy, too.

A voice yelled from the doorway. "***, Harriet!"

She brushed a lock of white hair from her eyes, and looked at her neighbor hovering across the room. "Rupert, you're a sight."

"It's ***, Harriet. I'm covered in *** from your damn monsters."

Bill roared with laughter from the other room.

She said, "I didn't know you caught it all in your bathtub."

"Not funny. We were changing the lines and the temporary holding tank overflowed. It's everywhere. Why the hell didn't you tell me you were making so much today?"

She put her hands on her hips. "Why didn't you tell us you were changing the lines? You know we milk at three in the morning, since you changed your inflow rate to charge more then."

"Your volume is more than the rest of the station. You should pay for keeping these things alive."

Harriet's tone was like ice. "You signed a big contract for both Aphelion One's and Two's greens. It's all over the station. I know you don't have enough fertilizer for that. You need our manure a lot more than we need your nutrient backflow, Rupert. You think about that. Now, get outta here before I call Bill."

"Bill?" his tone was uneasy. "Fine, next time just say something."

Weightlessness made it impossible for Rupert to stomp on his way out or she was sure he would have.

She felt Bill behind her. "Nicely done, love. I think that deserves an indigo whippet."

She shook her head. "Oh, no. Those candies are over twenty credits each."

"Nonsense, my dear. It's not every day you can tell that SOB off, and you know you love them."

She grinned. "I love the way they make my skin glow in the dark."

"I won't tell the health inspector if you won't. Besides, you're saving on the light bill, then. But don't take too long, we've got to pipe into the whey centrifuge soon or there won't be a clean break. Gonna make a couple wheels of cheddar today. That ought to be aged and sharp just when they decide to celebrate their arrival."

He paused. "We'll need something mellow for contrast, too. Maybe muenster."

She chuckled. "My man, the cheese artiste."


"You see? And glowing, too!" Rupert was in the doorway again, this time with the station administrator.

"Dan!" she called with a big smile. "What brings you down?"

Dan jabbed a finger toward Rupert. "Stinky here does."

Rupert crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Aren't you going to do something about it?"

Dan stared him down. "This is the last, original, demonstrator businesses in operation on any of the ten Free Market Stations. As such, it has a different charter, so whatever happens to it is solely my discretion. Get lost or I'll inspect you next."

Rupert skedaddled.

"Annoying git," Dan muttered under his breath. "So, Mom, how are things going?"

She shrugged. "Same old cheese factory. Same old cheesemakers."

Dan grinned. "I remember when Dad told me about turning this old Columbus module into a cheese factory. Nobody believed it was even possible in microgravity. Now, folks sure love how he timed different cheeses to mature at different times throughout their trip. Always kept it fresh. Although really, it was your ship's storage design just as much. Brilliant, figuring out how to use the dark side of ships just enough to keep things refrigerated."

She nodded.

He sighed. "Look, Mom, you can't keep talking to Dad like that. It's not right."

"Think I'm crazy, do you?"

Dan looked at the floor. "Just knock it off when people are around, ok?"

Harriet regarded her son sourly. "Anything else?"

"We'll bring the kids for Sunday dinner. Give you some real company, ok?"

She nodded.

Watching him leave, she felt the spirit of her late husband wrap his arms around her.

"Kids." Bill said, "Never know as much as they think they do."

She smiled. "Nope."

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:43:21 PM

03/'08 - Free Skate

The challenge was to use a memory of a poignant or embarrassing event from any point in the author's past and to remake that in a new, speculative fiction way.

Example story:

Dancing Queen

N.J. Kailhofer

Wow. That girl really knew how to skate.

How did she do that? How did she know where she was going? The lights were all off except for the spots reflecting off the disco ball twirling around the room.

She was older than us, and had black, curly hair held out of her eyes by a headband. She wore a tight Jaws t-shirt over a pair of really high, red satin shorts. She was very skinny, with long, pale legs. Tall socks stuck out over the tops of her skates. Small fuzzy dice dangled from the laces. She darted in between the couples on the floor, twisting and turning, spinning around and going backward, and the whole while dancing to the Abba song on the speakers.

A sharp whistle next to me made me jump. Looking up, I saw the old man who ran the place standing next to me at the rail. He was staring out at the floor, two fingers that he used to make the whistle still in his mouth. At the desk behind him, his gray-haired wife watched with a sour look on her face.

He gestured to someone out on the floor, and I saw her coming. She swung both arms like a speed skater, and darted between couples with only inches to spare as they turned around the loop. She had a big grin, and no fear.

She spun in a tight circle and stopped in front of him.

He frowned. "Whatcha doin' out there, Julie? You know that's for couples."

She smiled at him, her braces gleaming. "Aw, c'mon. There's loads of room out there."

"No," he said. "I let you out there like that, next thing I know, there's a whole gang of kids out there causin' trouble. You wanna go out there, get yourself a date or wait for the free skate."

He went back to spraying deodorant into skates behind the desk.

She pouted and I studied the floor.

"Hey you," she said. "How old are you?"

I looked around. "Who, me?"

"Yeah, you."


She thought for a minute. "That's old enough. Wanna?" She jabbed her thumb toward the spinning disco ball.

"Uh…" I swallowed hard. "I don't know. I was, um, waiting for the snack bar. Get some, you know, stuff. Wacky Wafers candy and a Coke maybe."

She glanced at the clock on the wall over the desk. "It won't be open for another ten minutes."

"Oh? Uh, really?"

There was an uncomfortable pause.

She slid over and took hold of my hand. My throat went dry, and it got really hot in the room.

"C'mon," she said, tugging me toward the floor.

I rolled forward until I would have had to let go of the rail. My other hand held fast.


I said in a really tiny voice, "I can't skate. I don't know how."

She looked at me sideways. "Are you kidding?"

I couldn't look her in the eye. "No."

She stepped in close to me until she was cheek to cheek. I had trouble breathing. No girl had ever wanted to be this close to me before.

"Trust me," Julie whispered in my ear. I didn't even realize at first that she had my other hand in hers.

She stepped back. "Just look into my eyes."

They were big, soft brown pools that seemed bigger the longer I peered into them. I saw a couple pass by behind her, then another, and realized it was us passing them. I hadn't known we were moving. I couldn't even feel the floor under my skates. She never looked away or checked behind her, yet she was weaving us in and out of the people on the rink effortlessly. I didn't want the moment to end.

Then I heard it. "Hey, look at fatty! He's out here with his girlfriend, the skate nerd."

I looked. We were passing Mike, the jerk, with Marie, little miss popularity. They laughed at us.

Marie jeered, "Even she's out of his league."

I didn't want to look at Julie's face. I didn't want to see her agree with them. I looked at the floor instead.

"Hey," Julie said. "I'm not like that."

She was smiling. "Don't mind them. They never amount to anything. Just keep shifting your weight. This side... now the other. Good. Now turn your foot a little when you push."

Her eyes sparkled. "You're almost there."

I spied Mike and Marie behind her, making faces at us. We must have been a sight: hand-in-hand, me staring into the eyes of this older girl who normally wouldn't even have acknowledged my existence.

"Julie, why are you doing this? Everyone else just makes fun of me."

"You're not so bad." She smiled, steering us back toward the rail. "Besides, there won't be music this good for another thousand years."

I stumbled as we crossed over the edge where the carpeting started, and she caught me in a hug and let me down on one of the benches. "I just love coming back here to skate." She kissed my cheek. "Remember me this way."

She turned to the old lady behind the desk. "Gotta go. I'll stop by next time I'm in the neighborhood."

The lady waved, and Julie skated out the doors to the parking lot. I tried to follow, but fell right down.

Mike bellowed, "Look at the loser!"

The old guy helped me up and luckily the crowd didn't laugh as long as they normally did.

"You'll get it, kid," he said. "The whole planet will catch on, someday."


I looked out the doors. I could see the whole parking lot, but she was gone, like she'd vanished off the face of the Earth. As I rolled back to the benches, thinking about her, I realized I was skating. I was finally doing it!

Grin on my face, I headed out for the free skate.

Thanks, Julie, wherever you are.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:43:48 PM

03/'08 - Free Skate

The Bay Room Door

David Alan Jones

The drill sergeant didn’t need to shout – he was six feet seven inches tall with shoulders wide as a train track, nut brown skin, and a set of gimlet eyes that I knew, instinctively, not only saw when the sparrow in the wood fell, but had probably lasered the damn thing.

The sergeant did not need to shout, but he did.

“Who can tell me what this is?”

A gaggle of idiots raised their hands.

“You, Private Volunteer,” said the Sergeant, pointing at one of the brownnosers.

“It’s a door, Drill Sergeant.”

“A door? A door? You think this is a door!?” screamed the man who had a few minutes before introduced himself as our new mommy, daddy and sweet Aunt Agnus. “You got to be hosing me, Private. Get up here!”

The boy – he was no more than eighteen and looked perhaps a big thirteen – jumped to his feet from the cold bay room floor and stood at attention before the sergeant. His forehead barely reached the five rows of brilliant Terran Army ribbons on the big man’s chest.

“Put your nose against it, private.”


“Put your nose against that door, private, before I do it for you. Good. Now take a good whiff, does it smell like a door?”

The boy sniffed. That might have been funny if I had seen it on TV or at a movie, but not now, not here.

“Um, yes, sergeant?” quavered the boy.

The sergeant keyed the door open with a badge he flipped from his pants pocket. The bay room door whizzed upward, scraping the boy’s nose in the process. To his credit the private flinched, but did not step back.

Bright sunlight spilled into the barracks, mitigated from deathly rays of burning heat and radiation to mere comforting splashes of yellowish beams by the highly polarized plasma shields encasing this end of the station. Our mother star hung, partially eclipsed, just over the darkened disc of the Earth in a black blanket of stars. Collectively we blinked, but no one was dumb enough to “Ooo” or “Ahh”.

In the near view, a green steel walkway lay beyond the door with a cement stairwell leading downward. Below us our brother unit was probably receiving the same object lesson in the lower bay.

“That like any door in your mama’s house?” asked the sergeant.

“No sir,” said the boy.

“’Cause it ain’t just a door. Look out there, all of you. The only thing between you and a case of the cold explodies is a thin shield of energized plasma. If that shield should ever fail, this door could save your lives. Go sit down, private.”

The sergeant keyed the door shut.

“Each of you will take turns manning this portal. It has been programmed to recognize your bio-signatures and my keycard. It will NOT open from the outside. When you perform portal post, you WILL ask anyone, AND I MEAN ANYONE, who approaches this portal for proof or identification. If that person cannot produce a red card like this one, you will refer him or her to the CQ.”

The sergeant passed around his keycard for each of us to handle. He also showed us how the person requesting entry should pass the card through a secure drawer beside the entryway. Then we each took a turn opening and closing the door.

“Now that you have all mastered portal post, it’s time for a little run. Out to the track, the lot of ya, and don’t forget your water! Except you.”

My heart froze. Despite my best efforts to blend into the crowd, to become as invisible to non-commissioned eyes as a speck of cotton on snow, the sergeant was looking at me.

“You got portal post, Private.”

I swallowed. “Yes, Sergeant.”

The others filed out, sparing me no backward glances. In less than a minute I was alone in the bay with its smell of bleached floors and young men’s sweat. I turned to look around my new home.


I jumped. Hell, I almost wet myself.

The voice had come from outside.


My heart launched from rest to Olympic sprint in the space of three seconds and I instantly began to sweat in my new Terran Army fatigues.

Had I done something wrong?


The sergeant had said not to open the door . . . except he was the sergeant. Shouldn’t I open the door for him? He had that red badge. I had handled it not five minutes ago.


I opened the door and stepped out. I was shaking.

“Yes. . . sir?”

No one stood on the green balcony, or on the stairs. Tentatively, I peered over the railing.

A sergeant stood there bedecked in Terran Blue, but not my sergeant. It was my brother unit’s sergeant. And he wasn’t looking at me.

I was safe. I was not in the rough. I was –

The door swooshed closed behind me before I could half turn around.

Frantic, I tried pushing it open, but to no avail. On this side the door was as seamless as the surface of a still pond.

I turned and gazed into space beyond the plasma shields, despairing. I would have to find the sergeant and tell him I had locked myself out of our bay room. I would probably be washed out of the Army, and on my first day. I’d probably have to go back to Kentucky and work on my brother-in-law’s chicken farm. Chickens really, really stink.

The door swooshed open behind me.

A soldier, the one the sergeant had made a spectacle of earlier, stood there, wide-eyed.

“I forgot my canteen,” he said, as if apologizing.

I dove through the open doorway, stood, and keyed it shut in his face. Only once the door was sealed and silence descended, did I dare breathe.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:44:17 PM

03/'08 - Free Skate

Hatred of the World

Jaimie L. Elliott

I brooded alone on a park bench within the bio-dome, ignoring the artificial world on an artificially sunny day. My fifteen-year-old mind focused on fifteen-year-old things, things I would later learn to be of little consequence. To a boy not yet a man, they were important things, even if only to linger in memory as faded echoes.

My self-imposed isolation shattered as a basketball slapped sharp against my cheek. Through the sting and sudden adrenaline, the figure of a leering teenager a year older stood in the middle of the red haze of vision. He was cyber-enhanced, large, mean, and looming, even from afar. I couldn’t recall his name, but I remembered his taunts in the hallways of academy. I assumed him a year older, but he might one of the countless held back mechanical misanthropes wandering this Mars town.

I rose to my feet without realizing it, my fists clenched.

“Hey monkey, give me the ball,” he commanded in a deep voice, his ugly face with its ugly fat nose split by an ugly, crooked grin. “Come on furry, give me the ball.”

I learned it’s hard to be a minority. It’s worse when you’re a minority to other minorities. I felt an irrational shame for my chimpanzee heritage, as if I deserved to be the focus of their hatred of the world.

“Give me the ball, chimp.”

I reached down and picked up the dull, worn sphere, only vaguely orange. I had a decision to make, and quick.

“You deaf, you fucking faggot chimp? Give me the ball.”

My hands tightened around the basketball. If I gave it back, he would throw it again. I only forestalled the inevitable. I made ready to heave it into that grotesque mug, to charge into my larger foe. With my blood, I would buy a few weeks of grudging respect until my next beating.

A rough hand shoved him in the side of his face and knocked him down. He hit the concrete hard. Looming over him was an overweight miner. I knew him to be Joe, a proud “true” human from Earth whom somehow, by cruel Providence, wound up in this hellhole.

“You causin’ trouble, sparky?” he mocked. “You causin’ trouble, robo-boy?”

My tormenter lay on the ground, a mix of fear and defiance simmering in his dull eyes. Although far superior physically, he knew it against the law to tangle with a pure. He continued to cower as Joe prodded him with a toe.

“You ain’t so tough,” continued Joe. “I’ve never seen one of you tinheads pick a fair fight.”

I should have been jubilant. I should have laughed with him, but Joe never looked at me. He wasn’t doing this for my benefit. Just like the cyber-enhanced wasn’t only mad at me. Just like me brooding alone beneath a false sun.

Joe walked away, cursing those “damn robots” and lamenting his fate on the red planet.

My bully picked himself from off the ground. I saw something profoundly miserable in his expression, something I identified with. I handed him the ball. “Here you go,” I said.

I left him standing there, not another word spoken. He never said a hello or a thank you afterward. He never so much as glanced at me.

He never picked on me again.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:44:51 PM

03/'08 - Free Skate


J.B. Hogan

As long as the boy could remember he had dreamed of freedom, but he was earthbound. He longed to see the world outside his little street in his little hometown. He knew there were greater things out there – exciting, adventurous things. He didn’t have a name for these things, but he knew they were there.

For some time now, that greater world beyond his neighborhood had beckoned to him, waited for him. But he was earthbound; his only means of locomotion his two small, thin legs. He understood his limitations but he wanted to see more, to experience more. He wished to explore, discover, learn.

“You’ll have to work for it,” the elders told him.

“I will,” he promised.

“It won’t be easy.”

“I can do it.”

And he did do it. He worked after lessons and in his free time. He saved what he could. Finally there was enough.

“It’s easy,” his brother told him, pushing him forward from behind. “Just keep moving. Reverse to stop. You can do it.”

But he couldn’t do it. He was afraid. He couldn’t keep his balance, nor brake properly. He despaired of success. He was ashamed. The dream of freedom eluded him. He felt a fool.

“Try it again,” his brother said, pushing him on.

The boy did try, and hard, but he could barely keep himself upright. He took off down the hilly street out of control, his brother running behind calling his name. A fast-moving floater car came up the hill towards him. The curb on the side of the road stuck out treacherously. He was trapped and braked badly. He shot over the curb and flew forward onto the ground landing hard, rolling to a stop by a shrub.

“Are you okay?” his brother asked, worried but trying to hide a grin.

“Yes,” he said, spitting out dirt and grass. “Stupid thing.”

His left arm was scraped and he had skinned both knees – not bad enough to cry about but they felt tight and burned. Freedom didn’t seem to matter much then, he only wanted to go home and hide. Too many people had been watching, too many had seen his stupid fall.

“Aren’t you ever going to try again?” his brother asked several days later.

“I don’t know,” he said, face reddening.

Failure was a terrible thing. Everyone knew when you failed. And you felt a fool. When everyone else could do something and you couldn’t, it was embarrassing. You had to try again. No matter what. But it wasn’t easy.

He remembered hearing one of his old uncles say, a man who had flown far above, far into the deep, azure, double-sunned sky: “If it’s too easy to do, it’s not worth much.” He didn’t quite understand that but he thought it meant you should try and try again. So he did.

He stayed on flat ground and practiced when no one was watching. He got rid of the wobble that had caused his wreck, learned to turn around, mastered braking. He made safe forays on the streets around his house and began to get comfortable.

He went faster then, standing up as he roared past his house, around the corner, down alleys, seeing his neighborhood from a different perspective. He joined other kids from the neighborhood, zooming along with them in the afternoons. He got better and better each day, built his confidence, lost his fear and embarrassment. And then it happened.

It was a Saturday morning in late spring, school was almost out and the world was turning green again, the days warm and bright.

“Let’s go down past the tracks,” one of his buddies suggested, “back of the shanty houses and shoot over the big culvert to the depot.”

The boy had never ventured outside his own neighborhood except on foot before and the suggestion filled him with nervous excitement.

“Yeah,” another buddy cheered.

“Let’s do it,” a third agreed.

With enthusiasm, the boy followed his friends down a steep road near his house, made a sharp right onto a narrow lane that paralleled the railroad tracks. He worked hard to stay right up with his pals. At the end of the narrow lane their path crossed the tracks and then dropped down another small hill where they would turn back left and head for the big culvert and the train depot well beyond their neighborhood to the north.

Shooting over the railroad crossing, the boy heard his friends laughing joyfully as they raced along ahead of him. Suddenly, unexpectedly, a wave of emotion swept over the boy bringing a sensation he had never known before. He felt himself flying, cruising above the earth, shooting out into the heavens, to the very stars themselves.

He was free. He had made himself so. All the fear was gone, the shame, the embarrassment. He was competent at last, unafraid, happy. Yes, happy. Happy to be free. He could go anywhere he wanted to now, anywhere. He had broken loose. It was all ahead of him: the travel, the adventure. He saw himself flying unfettered through a great blue sky of possibilities.

Crying out happily, he soared on into the fine spring day. Nothing could dampen his spirits nor diminish this moment. Nothing could take it away from him. At this moment, on this day, all was right with the world; it was good place to be.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:45:22 PM

03/'08 - Free Skate

The Braided Pony

G.C. Dillon

The Human army rode out of Elfland with less fanfare than they rode in with. No cheers, no boisterous crowds of flower-tossing Elves. They had just the greying sky and the electric scent of coming storms. One storm, a tempest of Goblins. They crossed the swiftly flowing, nameless stream and made camp.

“Your troops fight for gold. Or silver,” said Trecy, the troop's Serjeant-at-arms. He was speaking with his leader about their sudden departure: the morning after the reception in Alfrodric's court. “And the Elves do need our help against the Goblin Horde.”

“Elven gold fades like the morning dew. Believe me there is no pot at the rainbow's end. Unless it's a chamberpot,” replied the army's captain. The commander of the Human Free Company was called Lord of Hotspur, but, in fact, that was the name of his huge broadsword, a massive bit of sharpened steel with twin flame-shaped guards at its hilt. The weapon hung down his back from a leather bandoleer.

“We can go back.”

“You think we should?!” The captain rubbed his forehead. “I will tell you upon the morn.”

When Trecy left, he laid his sword against the tent-pole, and lay himself down upon his cloth cot.

[align=center]* * *[/align]

And he is in his dreams:

He sits upon his horse. His only favorite horse: a grey old nag, whom he brushes, shovels out the stall for, and feeds carrots to. It is the mount he rode as a squire, and the mare is long dead. Today, he had a puissant stallion. He didn't know its name. Didn't care.

“Come on, girl,” he says. They ride down the narrow street to the Braided Pony Tavern. As he approaches, a landau pulls up. A tall male exits. It is Alfrodic the Elf Prince. His ears have the fey points on them. Then Marianela comes out. Her blonde hair rests upon her bare, slender shoulders. He comes here for her, because she asked him to. He follows them in, watches them at their table. He takes an ale from the barman. Should he go over? He doesn't know? Why is she here with him? He decides to leave.

-- She really screwed you over, Egbert. Didn't she? asks an older man at the bar. He calls him by his birth name.

He turns seeing two things above all else. First an old, scarred man. He sees himself. And in the mirror beyond the bar, he sees himself again, but a younger visage. A young man, without scars, and greyless hair. He is as he was once, and the speaker is as he is now.

“But you're me? And I'm --”

-- You're twenty again, one year from the armour, and the coveted title of 'sir'. But no, I am not you, good knight. I am Hotspur. Your blade. But who would listen to a talking sword, even in a dream? I'm borrowing your good looks.

“How are you Hotspur? It's a piece of steel.”

-- Because I am a magic sword, silly. Hotspur to you, Væ victus to the scribbling scribes with their penned histories, claidheahm bhFiann to the Sylvan Pixies, Gelstong to the Dwarfs. I like that one the best.

-- You stiffed the bartender. Didn't tip him. Not even a pfennig. Always felt bad about that. Right? Wasn't his fault, but hers.

“I was embarrassed; I just wanted out of there,” he said. “I saw her in the Elf-court. She hadn't aged a day.”

-- Pshaw. Just Elven magic. A pointy-eared parlor trick.

“I had asked her to the play by the Chamberlain's Men.”

-- Never liked lakers, Hotspur interjected, disparaging all actors.

“She said no, but then within a fortnight she said I should show up at the Braided Pony. She did! I asked the scullery maid what it meant. The old woman said Marianela had changed her mind.

-- It wasn't an invitation, Hotspur said. Only a friendly suggestion. Even charwomen can be wrong. You wanted to set things right. I'll give you that.

Hotspur sipped from his flagon of Zinfandel, and hooked a thumb back at the mirror above the bar. The mirror shows not a true reflection, but a long ago scene. What are the words his image is speaking? “We had a misunderstanding. And I wasn't too nice to you. But I'm over that now.”

-- You lied. You were still angry, turning your embarrassment to rage. But then she made her attempt.

“Bertie,” Marianela says, still in the mirror. “If you don't ever want to see me again that is alright. I understand. Maybe I led you on. I just need to know what you want.”

-- 'Led you on.' Not your term. You called her words you never called a woman before, and none since. Words you couldn't have accurately called a man. I'm impressed with the lexicon! But then I'm a sword.

“I never said it to her!”

-- No, still you said it to your peers. She didn't know?

“I do not know if she did.”

-- Well, you saw her again. Didn't you? She did herself well. Consort to that Elf Prince. And what did you do?

“I left.”

-- You took your toy soldiers and fled. It's not about shame or anger anymore, is it? I see that now. Once, maybe. But now it takes less of your courage to face the Goblins than it does to face her. She harmed you; a deeper cut than any goblic yataghan sabre could ever have delivered. You fear her more than dragons.

-- Ah! Because no sword is between you two. I'm flattered, but you overestimate my prowess.

“I cannot harm her.”

-- And leaving didn't? Leaving physically now. Emotionally then. Or maybe I just don't understand your language well enough. But then I was only forged in a hot furnace and pounded straight on a hard anvil.

[align=center]* * *[/align]

“Your orders, sir?” asked Trecy upon the morn.

-- Just what are your orders? whispered Hotspur from its sheath on Egbert's back.

“Mount up. We ride to Elfland.”

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:45:49 PM

03/'08 - Free Skate

- Winner -

Between Scareds

Bill Wolfe

"You're just chicken! "

"Am not!"

"You're chicken and yellow and ought to be wearing a pink dress."

"Then you go down there and check it out!"

Brent had me and I knew it. Boyhood logic. You either get it, or you don't. I really didn't want to be the first one down there, where we'd heard the commotion after the plane—or whatever—crashed near the old quarry.

All we knew was, it was bright, burning, and very quiet till it hit the ground.

Trapped between two scareds. That was me, alright.

What? Don't know what that is?

Not too surprising, really. Let me explain.

My dad was a war hero. He really was. He even had the scars to prove it. Though he never talked about it. Not with me, anyway.

My dad told me once that sometimes, bravery is nothing more than being trapped between two scareds. He told me—only once—that when it happened, he was more scared of letting his buddies down than of dying. And he hated the Japs for making him choose. His word, not mine. He earned the right, don't you think?

Me? I was scared to be the first one down there and maybe even more scared to look like a sissy in front of my friends.

I had a bad feeling about the whole situation, but that didn't stop me from joining in with the rest, laughing at Jimmy when he got all momma's boy on us, and went running home to tell his folks.

It was only later that I realized Jimmy had a better look at it than we did.

That left just the three of us, me and Brent and Larry.

With Jimmy gone, we knew we had at least an hour—probably more—before any grownups came to check it out. So, mostly because I'd let myself get caught, I went. . .or at least I told them I did. I was trapped between two scareds, alright.

I'm not really ashamed that I just walked a little ways down the path and then hid for about twenty minutes. What haunts me to this day is what I told them when I went back.

It was meant as a joke. It was. But I just didn't think it through. I was planning to laugh at them when they came back empty-handed. And I still believe that today. Even with everything that's happening. Even since Jimmy called.

I was breathing hard like I'd run all the way up from the quarry, but I was faking it.

"It's a plane, and there's two dead guys. Pilots. I think they look Mexican. And there's all this money just laying around and blowing in the wind. No tellin' how much has already burned-up in the fire."

Brent and Larry looked at each other, and with a loud whoop they started running down the path I'd just come up. They didn't even look back to see if I was behind them.

As soon as they were out of earshot, I actually did laugh, a little. I remember thinking how I'd be lounging there on the flat of a big rock, all rested and ready to lord it over them that I'd fooled them both.

I remember laying back, letting the heat from the sun-warmed limestone soak through my tee-shirt and watching the clouds and birds drift by on a dusty, hot, perfect summer day.

I remember the smell of dried leaves, fresh growth, and a little bit of sweat.

I remember thinking how they would be mad—but not really.

I remember trying not to think that they had done what I was afraid to do. They would know what was down there and would tell me about it. . .thinking I already knew.

They would never know that I was just too scared see it through.

And then I remember the screams.

I was halfway home when it flew overhead and disappeared. I got a much better look at it, that time.

I'd like to say I thought they'd be okay. But then why would I tell everyone that I'd done what Jimmy did, and refused to go down to the quarry? I told them that I waited up top and ran away when I heard the screams. They all assured me I'd done the right thing, even Brent and Larry's parents.

The freaking screams!, they haunt my dreams.

And such screams they were. Though it's been forty-two years since that terrible day, the memory can still send chills down my spine.

Those boys. Those boys who would pick-up a copperhead barehanded and chase kids around with it; those boys who didn't flinch when we cut our thumbs so we could become blood brothers; those boys who should have stood at my wedding, and consoled me through my divorce.

Those boys should be fat and old, and with me now. We should be parked in front of the TV, drinking beer, cussing and hoping that the things silently floating front of every major world government building are nothing but some stupid hype for some Hollywood movie release, or something. Those boys who would recognize—as Jimmy and I do—those images on CNN.

But I'm caught between scareds, again. I'm scared that those things are going to open up and spew death in every direction. And I'm more scared, maybe, that they'll open up the one on the White House lawn, and Brent and Larry are going to come walking out.

What if they've learned the secrets of the universe?

Should it have been me, instead?

What if they are ambassadors of peace?

What if they bring death?

What if they're mindless robots?

What if they've been suffering all these years?

It should have been me.

What if they still remember the story I told them?

What if they tell?

I've got my shotgun next to me, just in case.

Sorry, Dad.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:46:51 PM

04/'08 - The Aphelion Project, pt. 1

The Aphelion Project Challenge, pt. 1:

As inspired by Bill Warren's cover illustration, these stories take place on the journey to Mars. They are set onboard Aphelion 2, the 2nd ship that will land on the red planet. The ships are halfway there. Aphelion 1 is a day ahead, and six souls crew each vessel.

Authors had to end their stories with a character, Lt. Cmdr. Dunsirn, discovered over the body of a crewmate. That body could be alive. That body could be dead. It could be accident, or it could be cold, bloody murder. It was all up to the authors.

They were not allowed more than 1,000 words.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:47:22 PM

04/'08 - The Aphelion Project, pt. 1

Dead Bored

Casey Callaghan

He sat.

He watched the radar screen.

He sat.

He watched the radar screen.

Technically, Lt. Cmdr. Dunsirn was doing sterling work in ensuring that the spaceship "Aphelion 2" did not run afoul of some bit of unmapped space debris, drifting into its path and ruining a few billion dollars of taxpayer's money. The fact that if it happened, it would kill him and the other five members of the crew as well, was considered less important to the people back on Earth. People were replaceable. A few billion dollars lost, however, would lead to embarrassment on the part of some official of the chairborne division back on Earth, and that was inexcusable.

Hence the radar screen. Everyone had a watch - even the Captain came down for his daily four hours.

But there never was anything more than an odd grain of dust, an excuse to - oh, the excitement! - take out the logbook, note that a dust grain was not on a collision course and not moving fast enough to do any damage even if it was, and put the logbook back.



There was the clicking noise of someone moving down the corridor in a pair of magnetic boots. Automatically, Dunsirn's mind attached itself to the clicking. It would naturally be Jones, who had vertigo if he moved without the magnetic boots, no doubt headed off to check on the plants in his little greenhouse once again. After two months on the same ship, everyone knew almost all there was to know about everyone else. Their hobbies; Captain Curtis had his bonsai tree (a smile still flickered over Dunsirn's face whenever he remembered the man back on earth - "You want to bring a tree for your recreational allowance?" and the Captain's deadpan answer - "And my clippers and other tools, yes."), Jones his greenhouse, Smith and Zwelitini their interminable philosophical discussions on the nature of the both universe and free will, and finally Chang, who would simply practice some esoteric form of martial arts, sometimes for hours on end. He said it cleared the mind.

Dunsirn himself had taken a collection of his favourite books. It had been a mistake. One can only fit so many books into the recreational weight allowance, and he'd now read them all, except one, a dozen times each, and hardly felt capable of facing them again. He wondered briefly if Smith had finished the one that he had borrowed yet.

Books. History books. Once again, the point popped into his mind. No-one knew who the second person to step onto the moon was. No-one could tell who who had run a four-minute mile... second. No-one, he was sure, would ever know who had been the second in command of the second spaceship to land on Mars. Probably no-one would remember even Captain Curtis' name, though he had a chance of making it into the history books if something happened to Captain Dahl soon after arrival.

But for Lt. Cmdr. Dunsirn - not a hope. Unless something happened on the voyage, of course.

He stared at the radar screen again. Someone had arranged that it would show the time at the bottom. This, Dunsirn felt, merely made the torture more exquisite, as it showed you quite clearly how long was left in your shift.

In this case - another three hours until Zwelitini arrived.

He sighed, and tried unsuccessfully not to think of depressing subjects.


The boredom of their voyage was taking its toll on the other crew members too, Dunsirn noticed later at lunch. They'd decided to spend some weeks sampling the food of other cultures, just for a bit of variety. Unfortunately, Chang's cooking skills were poor enough in full Earth gravity; under the conditions imposed by null-grav, when a stray crumb could wreak havoc by getting in someone's eye, and with the limits imposed by their food stores, his efforts were... well, "abysmal" was probably the wrong word. "Abysmal", Dunsirn felt, might even be an improvement.

"Chang." said the captain, "these eggs are burnt."

"Yes, Captain." replied Chang meekly. "I don't know how it happened."

"Humph. What did you do? Put them back because you thought they weren't done yet?"

"I only did that once!" objected Jones immediately.

"It might help," observed Zwelitini, "if someone could have spared the budget for a proper chef."

"He'd have problems, too." pointed out Dunsirn, morosely. "All the equipment is so different from standard Earthside systems, that -"

"He'd have to relearn cookery from the ground up." chorused everyone at the table.

A few bites later, Zwelitini asked "Do we have nothing better to do than moan about the food over lunch?"

"You're right." said Chang. "We must think of a different subject to occupy our minds. If we are happy, time will pass quickly, and we will get to Mars sooner."

"Before someone snaps and kills somebody?" asked Dunsirn.

"Now, you see," replied Chang, "that is the wrong action. You are infecting us all with your negative moods. Think of sunlight, of happy things. If you cannot, then keep your negativity in and your mouth shut."

Dunsirn sighed inwardly, but he knew that Chang was right. He kept his negativity in and his mouth shut.

As always, of course, he spun out his lunch as long as possible. Eating involved at least doing something.

Straight after lunch, he went off to the radar room to ask Smith if he'd finished the book yet. One wasn't supposed to disturb the radar operator, but radar operators nonetheless prayed for disturbances.

He headed off the the radar room, knocked, opened the door, and went inside.

Two minutes later, Captain Curtis arrived for his shift.

He did not expect to see Dunsirn in there. And he really did not expect to see Smith dead, a hole drilled through his chest, his head at an unnatural angle, his sightless eyes staring at Dunsirn, who was sobbing and frantically checking Smith's neck for a pulse.

[align=center]To Be Continued...[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:47:50 PM

04/'08 - The Aphelion Project, pt. 1

Best When Served Cold

N.J. Kailhofer

She pulled down the visor on her helmet. Earth would see her face less that way.

"Dunsirn," Jericho called over the radio, "How aboot we wrap this thing up, eh? Your elapsed EVA time is nearly six hours, now."

Canadians, she thought. How can Heidi stand Pete's accent?

Dunsirn replied, "The housing is stuck. I'm working on it."

"I think you just like showing off for the cameras, but I'm pretty tired of wearing this suit all day as your backup, you know. It's hard as hell to push buttons with these damn gloves on."

She peered over her shoulder toward the CCD camera on the dish. She had little doubt that a lot of Earth was indeed watching her struggle to fix the next mechanical hiccup of the mission.

No, she reminded herself. They're watching the ugly astronaut try again, not Lieutenant Commander Amanda Dunsirn doing her job. After Aphelion One touches down a day ahead of us, they'll forget Two even exists. If the main electrical junction hadn't fried, I wouldn't even be getting airtime.

The nut finally budged. "I figured it out. We should change the manual that the top two bolts are reversed so you have to turn them the opposite direction from the bottom two."

Jericho laughed. "I'll add it to today's glitch list right after the beef jerky that was mislabeled as freeze-dried broccoli."

"Oh, great," she said with a mocking tone. "Can't wait to see what your wife cooked up."

Jericho didn't answer for a minute. "Heidi says Francesco and Yosuke kept it down, so whatever it is, it will fill you up. All righty. You're in the way of the camera, but I see the housing is open. How much longer on that bypass, Commander? Let's get it done out there, eh?"

'Commander?' Oh, I dared to criticize the wife. Heidi's just a mission specialist without much to do until we land... added at the last minute. She had less time in space than anyone, and she's the worst cook I've ever met.

Men. Anything for a set of big boobs.

"Almost there, sir. You should see some subsystems start to flip green."

"Roger that."

The last connection. "Wait. Something's wrong. That shouldn't--"


"Amanda? C'mon, wake up, sailor." Jericho sounded worried.

Dunsirn's eyes struggled to open. Dr. Jandrain's face floated in front of her, with Jericho's behind.

"Do you have to shine that light in my eyes, Chandra?"

Jandrain looked relieved. "How are you feeling?"

"Why won't my arms move? What's wrong with the right side of my face? It feels numb."

The doctor frowned. "With luck, your arms will regain movement when some more of the swelling near your spinal cord goes down. I'm sure the hundred doctors Mission Control has working on your results will know more."


Jericho leaned in. "One of the units in that panel exploded. Shot right through your helmet into your face and neck. By the time I could get you back in, you were pretty damn close to dead."

"How bad is it?"

Jandrain glanced at Jericho, but then put on a calm expression. "We'll know better about after we've run tests, but I have no doubt there will be significant scarring. This was beyond my skills. If One hadn't slowed so both Doctor Adams and I could work on you, I believe you would not have survived."

Dunsirn swallowed hard. "I want to see it."

Jericho shook his head. "I don't think you want to do that just yet."

"Pete, I deserve to know."

The two looked at each other, then Jericho sighed. "All right, but look, Amanda. Just remember you're lucky to be alive. It was a miracle it didn't hit your jugular."

Jandrain lifted the bandages and Jericho held a mirror. A wide, jagged gash, held together by a swath of stitches started high on her right cheek and ran down to the nape of her neck.

"My God." I'll be known as the hideous, ugly cripple that went to Mars.

Her whole career passed in front of her eyes, from basic to flight school to the competition to be the Navy's representative on the mission. In the end Dunsirn always believed she was chosen over the others because her face made for a better photo op.

"Do they know what caused the explosion?"

Jericho sighed. "Human error."


"You need to eat." Heidi brought the fork to Dunsirn's mouth. "C'mon, let the choo-choo in."

"Drop dead."

"Squid wimp."

Dunsirn's eyes narrowed to slits. "Yeah, not tough like you, jarhead. But at least I'm smart enough not to switch on the electric heaters while a shipmate is working on the lines."

"You know about that?"

"Pete told me."

Heidi broke the long, uncomfortable silence. "Ironic, isn't it? You always thought you were better than me, and now you're laying here like a lump, dependent on me to keep you fed and alive. Who's the important one now?"

Dunsirn spit in her face. "I don't know what Pete saw in you."

Heidi smirked. "Everything he didn't see in you."

"When I can move again, I'm going to strangle you with my bare hands."

Heidi laughed. "Ooo. Scary. Here, eat your mush."

She shoved in a fork full.

Dunsirn gagged. "What is this crap?"

"Humble pie, as far as you know."

Dunsirn's fist leapt up from the bed, connecting with Heidi's chin. Amanda stared, moving her hand in front of her face. Her other hand joined it.

Heidi smiled at her. "Chandra was right. I just needed to make you mad enough to get the connections working again."

Amanda smiled, too.


The airlock cycled. Dunsirn thought about her recovery during the months since: tests, exercise, and improvised physical therapy. Hardly anyone on Earth remembered her name, but they all knew her wounded face.

"Aboot time you got in. Longest EVA of the mission--" Jericho froze in the doorway.

Just inside the airlock, Heidi's body floated at her feet.

[align=center]To Be Continued...[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:48:17 PM

04/'08 - The Aphelion Project, pt. 1

- Winner -

Old Wounds

Bill Wolfe


Lieutenant-Commander Ophelia Dunsirn didn't believe in intuition. She had earned her way to second-in-command of Ap-Two through hard work, intelligence and perseverance. She'd flown strike missions in Iran and Tibet, and had scored the highest ever on the EuroNASA physical/emotional fitness exam. She had complete trust in herself and didn't worry about her place in history. She'd earn that too, eventually. But the butterflies in her stomach since Captain Al-Hassanieh had made the announcement just wouldn't seem to go away. No other way to say it, she had a bad feeling about this.

She'd been wearing her Com-Officer hat when the priority, eyes-only, encrypted message had been recorded by Ap-Two on its way to Ap-One, nine light-seconds ahead on their trajectory to Mars. It was only the second such message she'd heard-of in the three months they'd been underway. The first was when Roberson's mother had died. Within ten minutes of this latest transmission, however, the Captain had issued a communications blackout with Earth. The computers would continue to record but the entire crew was completely locked-out until further notice. This was unprecedented. All ten members of the Martian All My Children Fan Club were going to throw a fit when the signal was interrupted from the 'Live' broadcast.

[center] Aphelion-I[/center]

"Relax Ensign." the Captain's manner was grim. Ensign First-Class Archana Yarlagadda, was trying hard to float at attention. It wasn't working well.

"You have my word that this conversation is both completely confidential and quite necessary. Clear?"

"Yes, Captain!"

"You were at The Academy with Lieutenant-Commander Dunsirn, were you not?"

"Yes Captain."

"Tell me about her pregnancy, Ensign. Everything. I want facts, rumors, anything you overheard and anything you suspected. That's an order."


"Shall I repeat myself, Ensign?"

"No Sir!" The Ensign paused, collecting his thoughts. "It surprised us all, Sir. She never so much as flirted with anyone—man or woman—when she was a Middy. She just didn't seem interested.


"Well, Sir, she started showing during our last semester but she refused any special medical restrictions on the physical part. She never spoke to anyone about it and my understanding is that she gave the child—uh, boy?— up for adoption after graduation."

"Speculations, Ensign." He wasn't asking.

"Several, Sir. There was the usual, of course. Admirals and Commodores and even the pizza delivery guy, but nothing really believable." The young officer took a deep breath. "And then there was some scuttle out of the civilian sickbay staff that she might have been raped."

The Captain didn't flinch, but his dark complexion seemed to blanche. "Explain."

"My roomie was dating a civilian nurse and he claimed that he'd heard that Ophelia—uh—Lieutenant-Commander Dunsirn, came-in about oh-five-hundred one Sunday morning, she was scratched-up and bruised and asking for a morning-after pill. There was no physical exam but the nurse said she'd worked plenty of ER's and knew a rape victim when she saw one. If she'd reported an assault, we would all have heard about it."


". . .Sidney Barnes? I'd have a lot of trouble believing that, Captain. For one thing, Ophelia's one of three people that ever knocked Hideki Yoshizawa out-cold in his own dojo. If ten Navy Seals went after her at least three of them would be dead before they could subdue her. I'd stake my career on it. And Barnes, Sir? If you'll pardon the expression, my ten-year-old niece could kick his scrawny geek civilian ***. Captain, there must be some mistake. I don't care if he was working in Annapolis at the time. And furthermore, Captain, Barnes is still a member of my crew and Ophelia would never disobey an order to leave him alone. I strongly advise against confining either of them to their quarters. Over."

Commander Alexandru Macridin released the transmit button and decided to review the news clip that the Captain had forwarded to him on the secure laserlink. He had a minimum of sixty seconds to burn until he received an answer from Captain Al-Hassanieh aboard Ap-One. The decryption/encryption time for these super-secure links was nineteen seconds.

It was a TurnerFOX[sup]TM[/sup] International Report and he had fast-forwarded to the salient part. Atop the screen was the headline, "Sex and Scandal in Space" and there were two, stock EuroNASA head-shot photos side-by-side. One was an excellent, professional shot of a bespectacled young man, pale and gaunt, with thinning blonde hair and a toothy smile. The other might have been a mug shot but even the poor lighting, lack of make-up, and severe hairstyle couldn't mask that this was a striking woman. Of African-Armerican/Pakistani lineage, she was dark, exotic, fit, and didn't give a flip about anything but the mission.

". . . has now confirmed that medical genetic testing done on all the Mars crews and their families prior to launch has indicated that Doctor Sidney Barnes, the only civilian on the mission, is the biological father of Lieutenant-Commander Ophelia Dunsirn's illegitimate child who was born shortly. . ."

"Al-Hassanieh to Macridin on squawk-two-fiver-nine-orange. Mac, I understand your concerns and I trust your judgment. Just go—and I mean personally—and order Barnes to his quarters until further notice. No explanation. And let's get Ophelia in your office for a little chat, shall we? Blackout will continue until we sort this out. Thanks Mac. Over."

According to the duty log, Barnes should be at his station on the aft reactor.

When the Commander approached the little den next to the Pu-Be/Thermocouple Generator bay, he heard a voice.

"Barnes! Wake-up, Barnes! Awwwwww—Crap!"

He had just turned the corner when a bloody hand reached for the com panel and Lieutenant-Commander Dunsirn's stern, calm voice began to echo throughout the ship.


When she looked-up and saw Macridin floating there, she released the button and lowered her voice.

"There's been an accident, Commander. I'm starting CPR."

[center]To Be Continued... [/center]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:49:05 PM

05/'08 - The Aphelion Project, pt. 2

Pt. 2 of this challenge was to complete the story "Old Wounds" by Bill Wolfe, winner of Pt. 1, in an additional 1,000 words or less
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:49:33 PM

05/'08 - The Aphelion Project, pt. 2

Old Wounds
The Conclusion

Bill Wolfe

". . .just how it is, Captain, we simply won't know until he wakes-up. And Doc says that will take a while. Over." Macridin paused. Damn that turnaround time. Barnes was in sickbay, hooked to monitors feeding information back to Earth; five-minutes delayed, of course.

The three remaining crew were all with him. Mac hated having to admit it, but he didn't know who to trust. The odds that all three were in on it were as slim as he could make it. Now, at least, it was possible that the perpetrator wasn't even on his ship. He hoped so. He might even have prayed it was so.

"Al-Hassanieh to Macridin on squawk-one-fiver-nine-deuce. Mac, it's official. Everybody on Ap-One managed to circumvent the blackout order. I got two who built their own radios and heard it on NPR, one who's been getting CNN Live-Feed on a jury-rigged monitor, and two that have been in contact with a high-school on Earth where the kids built their own laserlink. These were all in place before the blackout. Worst part is, I knew about that last one. I just forgot. Over-and-out."

Macridin sighed. It was the same story on his ship. These were all very clever people or they wouldn't be here. They also had a lot of time on their hands. The only person who hadn't built or rigged some kind of com system was Lieutenant-Commander Dunsirn. Maybe Barnes, of course, but he wasn't talking. They all knew now that Barnes was the father of Ophelia's child. Which meant that if the rumors of her assault were well-known, there were four suspects on his ship and five on Ap-One. Mac disregarded the Captain. He didn't have the technical expertise. Macridin knew he was innocent, and Barnes, of course.

It looked like a panel overloaded when Barnes logged-in for his daily checks. It damn-near took his head off. Oh yeah, these were all very clever individuals. Control had informed the Captain that anyone—on either ship—could have hacked that panel. Everybody had the codes and inter-ship telemetry wasn't affected by the blackout. Control also said that it may have been a malfunction. It was time to talk to Ophelia and—hopefully—get this mess sorted.


". . . .You could say, Commander, that I got just what I asked for. Sidney Barnes. What are the odds?"

The wistful smile on her face was both a puzzlement and a relief for her commanding officer. Regardless of the rumor mill, she was no longer on his suspect list.

"For what it's worth, the incident in the infirmary was true. Do you remember Gunny Jones? Tenth-degree black belt in Aikido, super-marathoner, took the Gold for Decathlon in the twenty-eight Games? I trained with him weekends while I was at the Academy. I had a real crush on him. He told me that if I could catch him, I could have him. Took me six weeks running through the Virginia countryside and some strategically-placed barbed-wire from an old fenceline, but I managed."

"And you never told anyone?" Macridin was trying very hard not to show how stunned he was. You never know about people. You just never know.

"None of their business, was it?"

"No, Lieutenant-Commander, it wasn't." He paused for a deep, focusing, breath. "So he wasn't the father of your baby."

"Commander. . .Mac?" her eyes asked for a variance in formality. He nodded.

"My sister can't have children. I wouldn't tell you why if you ordered me to do so, let's just leave it at that." Macridin nodded again, she'd given him fair warning.

"And I was about to embark on a career that was going to take me into harm's way, Big Time. You know me, Mac. Do I strike you as the kind likely to have an 'accident,' when it comes to something like this?"

"No, Ophelia, you don't. You plan everything and execute your plan with precision."

"Thank you, Sir. Well this was no accident, either. We hear a lot on this mission about our place in history. Well, I wanted to leave something of myself behind if I got blown out of the sky over Tehran."

Macridin was beginning to see where this was going, but he let her go at her own pace.

I asked the sperm bank for a donor with blue eyes, blond hair, in excellent health, and brilliant.

His face must have given him away because she answered what he dare not ask.

"My sister's husband—David—is a blue-eyed blond, that's why. Achmed—my grandfather's name—looks like he could be their son. I wanted a stranger, however, because imagine how awkward things could get if David was the biological father. This was my child, my shot at immortality, and the father forever anonymous. Or so we thought. . ."

"I could see Barnes making a. . .uh. . .donation."

"Yeah, he's got the arrogance for it, I agree." Again that wistful smile. "But you know? I really did get what I asked for. Lock, stock, and genius IQ. I have to admit, I've wondered. He's a really great kid."

"So much for my suspects." He was incredibly relieved.

"Oh? Commander?" He didn't know what it was, but something had changed. She was his exec, again.

"No motive. It must have been an accident."

"I agree with you there, Sir. It has to have been an accident, if you get my drift, Sir."

"Explain, Lieutenant-Commander."

"Twelve people, two years crammed together. If someone did this, they'll soon find out they had no cause. Barnes won't be in danger."

"But if. . . "

"Are you going to lock someone up? Where? Twenty-four hour guard? Who can we spare for that?"

"So you're saying. . ."

"It was an accident, Sir. Plain and simple. We're on a mission and we just can't spare anyone to be guilty of attempted murder."

"It's not on the duty roster, is it, Lieutenant-Commander?"

"No Sir, it's not."

[align=center]The End[/align][/quote]
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:50:10 PM

05/'08 - The Aphelion Project, pt. 2

- Winner -

All for Love

N.J. Kailhofer

Macridin stabbed his finger on the send button. "You saw the orders as well as I did. We'll store him outside until we orbit, then bury him after we land. Look, Captain, all due respect, but Ophelia's still a member of my crew, and she will be there, not locked up. If she didn't do it, I want them all at the funeral where I can see their faces. Mac out."

And stop calling every two hours! I'll put my own house in order.


Barnes floated in his spacesuit in the center of the Hab module, tethered to the floor below. They hadn't known where else to keep him. The crew waited on the far end of the room. None of them seemed broken up. Takuya and he were supposed to be pals, always playing video games against each other. Sergei wouldn't even answer Macridin's questions without instructions from his government. Hell, Helga wanted to use his body as fertilizer on her damn plants. Burying him offended her German sense of efficiency.

Ophelia wasn't anywhere near them.

No one wanted to meet his eye, except her. Ophelia's eyes blazed, no doubt due to the zip ties binding her hands and feet.

Mac cleared his throat. "A body doesn't belong in here."

Takuya looked up, puzzled.

"This room is where we eat, where we gather, where we exercise, or where we watch tv. This place is the heart of our home here, a place of life."

Helga watched him now, too.

"But Sidney Barnes is dead. He can't eat with us. He can't exercise, can't watch that damn soap opera. But he can gather with us one more time, so we can all hear how he was murdered."

He could have heard a pin drop.

"Sidney Barnes bled to death after a thin object was stabbed into his chest until it almost came out his back, but not before it ripped a hole right through his heart."

Sergei looked uncomfortable. Ophelia stared defiantly.

"Someone in this room did this." He tilted the body so they'd have to look at the face. Mac floated beside the body, his face next to Barnes'.

"Someone in this room murdered this man."

He paused, studying the faces. Helga looked uneasy, maybe annoyed. Takuya looked shocked. Sergei swallowed, watching the faces around him.

Mac continued. "I'm going to tell you all a secret. Barnes here had a kid."

Ophelia looked at the floor. Mac floated over. Softly, he asked, "It was a boy, right?"

She nodded.

"What did they name him?"


Sergei asked, "Why are you asking her?"

"The blackout is because of their child. Earth is calling it a sex scandal. They didn't want you to see the newscasts."

Mac moved close, and took her hands. "Look at me. Did he rape you? Is that how you got pregnant? You have to tell me."

Her eyes were brown pools. "No."

Helga's tone was sharp. "What this have to do with Barnes' death? Why are you asking her this in front of all of us?"

"Rape is a good motive for murder."

Their faces were all confusion, nothing else.

He turned back to Ophelia. "How did you get pregnant, then? You showed up at the hospital all banged up."

She shook her head. "No. SERE wilderness survival training. We did a night drop and I landed in a rapids. I was beat and scratched to hell by the time I got out of that river. When we got back, I had liberty. I was blowing off steam in this quiet bar across town and saw Sidney. He always made me laugh. I--we both drank too much."

"Why the secrecy?"

She sighed. "My mother was born in Pakistan. She's very traditional. You know what it was like before we invaded. I didn't want her to know. It was hard enough for her to accept the life I chose."

He looked directly into her eyes. "Did you kill him?"

"No. I was Com Officer that shift but I was supposed to do an interview for Good Morning America at 03:00, so Sidney was going to relieve me at 02:00 so I had time to clean up for tv. He didn't show. I went looking for him."

Mac paused.

"I have direct orders not to do this until some formal inquiry back on earth." He cut Ophelia loose. "But they can kiss my ***. This is my command."

Mac said to the rest of them, "That leaves one of you as prime suspect."

Sergei protested he'd hear from the Russian government. Takuya howled in loud Japanese. Helga glared at him dangerously.


Mac closed the door of his quarters. He took out a tab of Kentucky rye and squeezed it dry. He just couldn't pin it on any one of them, and couldn't lock them all up. They needed to do their jobs.

Ophelia knocked and floated in.

"Mac," she said, "I know you read the 'eyes only' message for Al-Hassanieh ten minutes before the blackout. I saw what you did."


"Sidney was recording segments for National Geographic before the blackout. Outgoing data gets held in the temporary queue until it's copied into the send queue. Send is erased by the blackout protocol, but until new data writes over it, it's still in the temp queue."

"Why, Mac?"

Mac frowned. "Your chemist friend's thesis was about canceling the effects of alcohol before it's absorbed. Don't you see? He was sober when he slept with you. He used you. Kissed you. Touched you."

"I couldn't live with that."

She put her hand on his. "But I could. I knew."

Mac exhaled slowly. "What are you going to do?"

Ophelia paused. "The mission is more important. The ship needs a commander." She stopped in the doorway. "But after this mission is over, the truth needs to come out... from you."

Mac watched her disappear down the corridor. By then you'll have forgiven me... my love.

[align=center]The End[/align]
Last edited by kailhofer on October 19, 2008, 03:33:15 PM, edited 1 time in total.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:58:23 PM

06/'08 - Fantasy Subgenre

The challenge was to complete a story in one of 27 different subgenres of Fantasy using an upturned stone and a pest in 1000 words or less.

Example story:

My Love, My Life

N.J. Kailhofer

I worship. I wait.

Dark tresses cascade down her forehead as she laughs. She smiles, her brown eyes playful. Her face, filled with happiness, draws us to her.

I adore. I wait.

The evening air is cool refreshment after the burning heat of the day, and her sigh is filled with contentment. Her eyes sparkle like jewels, twinkling with delight, and she reaches for the other. Their hands intertwine. At their feet, an upturned stone stumbles from the path to the lake, startling a turtle into the water.

I sing. I wait.

Her eyes look to the trees, searching for our faerie song. The unseen host dances before them, casting every hope for survival upon her. She sighs and rests her head upon the shoulder of the other.

I wait. I ache.

The nape of her neck beckons to us, and her perfume tantalizes. We draw near. The boldest of us gently strokes her smooth skin. She is our chosen one.

I touch. I love.

Even as our passion begins to swell inside her, will she understand our devotion? Will she know how she completed us, fulfilled our destiny? We give to her all that we can.

I fear. I flee.

The motion of the blow casts me aside, but three of my sisters are crushed. Our song fills with mourning as we watch their broken bodies tumble to the stones below. They will never know joy.

"Darn mosquitoes!" she shouts, swatting again. Still, she is as full of me as I of her.

Our children will live. They will love.

[align=center]The End[/align]
Last edited by kailhofer on October 18, 2008, 04:52:48 PM, edited 1 time in total.
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:58:59 PM

06/'08 - Fantasy Subgenre


David A. Jones

Sunshine bathed the little valley, spilling from the near peaks to ignite verdant summer foliage in thick stands of timber. Birdsong played sweetly upon the wind. Bees and butterflies flew lazily amongst hillside wildflowers. Even the Stonecobbler River, a treacherous man-killer at nearly any other spot along its course, ran here almost gaily between high, tame banks, tracing the valley floor.

The wizard Wiggin sat ahorse frowning dolorously at all that pastoral beauty below him. He was not, by nature, a curmudgeon, but no amount of pastoral beauty could lift his spirits with an unfriendly army arrayed along the valley’s opposite rise.

“Nyssor’s balls, Master, we’re going to die,” whispered Bean, Wiggin’s apprentice, who sat a donkey beside his master’s horse.

Wiggin slapped him, hard, and then cast about amongst the nearest cluster of knights. No one seemed to have heard his loquacious student.

“Say something like that within earshot of King Card and we’re dead for sure, you idiot,” said Wiggin.

Rubbing his cheek, yet seemingly nonplussed, Bean said, “What do we do, Master? That’s the best of three armies over there. We don’t have magic enough to stop three armies.” Bean pulled at Wiggin’s sleeve like a babe tugging its mother’s apron.

Wiggin freed himself temporarily from his apprentice’s grubby clutches, slapping at the boy’s doughy hands. “Quit blubbering, you,” he hissed.

A commotion amongst the nobles caught the wizard’s attention.

“Bean, stop it. The King approaches.”

Bean redoubled his efforts, grasping his master’s arm, nearly toppling from his donkey.

“Don’t listen to King Card, Master. You know he’s insane. Let’s ride out of here.”

Wiggin stiffened his arm, bringing Bean’s frantic movements to a stop. Lightning flowed through the wizard’s exposed wrist, giving Bean a good shock -- not enough to cause any real damage, but plenty to silence him.

The boy yelped and sucked his fingers.

“Wizard,” said old King Card as he and four of his knights retainers approached.

“That weren’t nice,” complained Bean, pouting.

“Shut-it,” hissed Wiggin then turned to his liege lord.

“My Lord,” said Wiggin, inclining his head in a bow.

“We’re on the brink of civil war, wizard. What say your stone on this? Read our future.”

Wiggin exchanged a knowing glance with King Card’s First General, Lord Hatrack, who rode at the old king’s side. That glance spoke volumes. Any faith either man had once held for their elderly king had long since fled with the king’s reason. Everyone knew Card was mad even fat Bean. Only their oaths of fealty, general and wizard, kept them in Card’s service. In years past the two of them had been able to guide Card to reason, to passably logical choices if not always the most sane, but not this time.

Across the valley an allied force of Card’s former liegemen waited. Bound together by their mutual hatred for the king, they had rallied behind Duke Milnard Corvidae. A man known for strategic genius and armed prowess, Corvidae had, not long ago, been old King Card’s most feared war duke and enforcer. But the old man’s insults and heavy-handed dealings had finally been enough to raise even the duke’s ire.

Wiggin wondered why it had taken Corvidae so long to revolt. For three years Card had demanded a tithe of eighty percent of all incomes -- coin and crop -- from all subject lords living outside his home county of Selerous. Those within the home boundary, however, enjoyed a mere five percent tithe. It was enough to make a man’s blood boil.

The wizard came out of his reverie. King Card’s beady eyes were upon him. Quickly, Wiggin freed a cloth-of-gold sack from inside his robes, retrieved from it an ornately carved, eight-sided stone about the size of a man’s fist, and tossed the thing into the grass between himself and his king.

“Well?” said Card.

Wiggin gasped. He couldn’t help it. The upturned stone had landed on the dancing swordsman.

“Fortune, High Lord. The stone shows portents of fortune,” said Wiggin.

Old King Card gave General Hatrack a knowing, triumphant smile that spoke of old arguments won.

“Fortune,” he said with a childish smirk. “Now, General, I shall lead the charge.”

“Sire, I really don’t think --“

“Silence,” said Card as he donned a golden helm formed in the shape of a dragon’s head.

He drew his long sword raised it over his head and shouted, “To me!” as he galloped headlong down the uneven slope.

So abrupt was his departure and so muffled his voice that only Lord General Hatrack, Wiggin and Bean followed the crazed king. Wiggin wouldn’t have followed at all, except his stupid horse ran after the King’s own mount despite the wizard’s insistent tugs at the reigns. Bean’s donkey did likewise.

This would be an ignoble end to Wiggin’s days of magical service, he thought. He didn’t belong at the front of battle, especially when the bulk of King Card’s army sat stupidly above them on the rise. For all his grammary and alchemical genius, he was about to die a most common, dirty death. Would it be an arrow in the chest or a pike in the gullet he wondered as he struggled to keep hold of his mount.

And then the prophesied fortune arrived. Old King Card’s horse stumbled, spilling its royal cargo. The old man toppled from the saddle ignominiously, struck the green earth with a thunderous boom, rolled several times, and then lay still, an inert lump of ornate golden armor.

Silence ruled the erstwhile battlefield as seasoned fighting men on both sides watched in jaw-dropped fascination like children at a puppet show.
Lord General Hatrack, having followed his liege, trotted up to the dead king. He dismounted, kicked the former High Lord of all Telred softly several times, then drew his sword and cast it before Duke Milnard Corvidae. Hatrack sank to one knee.

“Thank the gods that man’s dead. We surrender.”

The End
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Post October 18, 2008, 02:59:35 PM

06/'08 - Fantasy Subgenre

The Deviser

G.C. Dillon

Shadrack the Deviser stood upon the tower's parapet. His optical televiewer showed him the approaching bugs, the Kha'rog. I stood below at the base of the structure. I am Bran, the Deviser's Alpha dog-soldier. Mine was the first chimera species, the first gene-split palingenesis of human and animal DNA. WE have been allies forever. We hunted their birds, shepherded their sheep, slept at the foot of their beds. Our canine ancestors were Man's Best Friend. My floppy ears pricked up and my nose wrinkled. My canine senses picked up the scraping sound of the approaching insects, as well as their fetid stench. I felt a growl grow in my throat.

Shadrack stepped off the tower and fell, conjuring the wind to slow his descent. His cloak billowed out behind him. He fell as if he had dived in the Big Pond and was only sinking to the muddy bottom, not falling through the thinner buoyancy of air. His boots touched the Earth lightly. He discarded his now spent and defunct counter-gravity cloak and it fell heavily to the ground.

I carried a thick katar knife, perfect for punching through chitinous armor, and a long-barrel blaster. Shadrack brandished a long sword-rapier with a swept hilt, dueling finger-ring, and a half-basket wire guard; he also wore a small disintegrator pistol. Chaiz the Cat-woman came up to join us. She had tawny fur with wide black stripes. A disruptor gun graced her studded leather belt. A spiked collar graced her slender neck.

Shadrack stepped out, his long strides eating up the distance between his camp and the advancing scourge of Kha'rog. The ultra-violet rays of the scant sunlight had reddened his balding forehead. A grey goatee circled his mouth. The Deviser's universal translator was a crystalline dodecahedron. He set it spinning in the air. My sharp ears could pick out the click, clack, and twills of the insectoid language. These sounds were created by rubbing their hindmost legs together. The creature began without salutation or preamble.

--zzzz carryfulls of Human corn are our tribute. Since the Sun began to fade, so it has been.

“Honored guests. It is with great sorrow and a penitent heart that I inform you that we have no gifts for you this year. Although, the glaciers are encroaching, not every year is a freeze. This spin about the pale Sun brought a deluge of Noah proportions, tornadoes and hurricanes that blow. Levees broke. Our fields were flooded and our crops drowned. We have food for humans and the human-hybrid chimera only.”

A general buzz came from the hive of bugs. The translator glowed a vivid vermilion, but gave no voice to the noise. I knew that the Deviser told no lie. I had filled sandbags myself, and piled them high.

“We give you free run of our land from the red desert border to the Long River. Eat every blade of grass, each flowering dandelion, a multitude from the leaves of the trees. But do no damage to our buildings or our machinery. Respect our homes.” Shadrack placed a large rock upon the ground between himself and the bugs. “Leave our stones unturned,” he added, trying to imprint the message securely upon them. The bug raced toward the Deviser.

A howl escaped my muzzle as I fired a laser blast at the Kha'rog. The weapon's red crystal faded to pink as its cache of energy leached from the dying Sun drained into the discharge. I dropped to all fours and ran for the air skimmer. We, three, took flight.

The Kha'rog marched. Their segmented bodies swished and twisted. Each leg moved slowly but steadily. This pest would pillage our villages. One hundred packs guarded the grain silos across the river, Shadrack's private demesne. I scratched at the fur of my neck. I hate fleas. They are as much of an annoyance as the Kha'rog. When I returned to the tower, I would need a sonic treatment. If only we could as easily rid ourselves of other pests.

Shadrack sipped from a demitasse cup of Kona coffee from the Hawaiian sub-continent. I kept my forepaws on the targeting sights of the rocket powered petard aerolauncher.

Shadrack waved one ringed finger at the televeiwer. Suddenly the bugs stood before us, a arms length at the most. Yet the creature stood upon its six legs kilometres away. They moved the largest Ogham stone. It tipped, falling over like a mated King upon a Chessboard or toppling like the statue of a 21[sup]st[/sup] century dictator.

“Yes. Those phegmniks reversed the polarity of the positron flow! As I hoped. It has been released.” Shadrack smiled.

Our first indication of what was to come was a solid, loud drone. Then the sky darkened into a small cloud of gnatlike beasties. These pests were metallic with gossamer wings made of plastic. These predators blasted into the invaders, sending waves of incendiary rockets into the scourge. I could not believe my eyes. I rubbed them with the backs of my furry paws. An entire city block was on the move, only the structures contained an army base, batteries of laser cannons, and flocks of armored tanks. This was one of the war machines from long ago. I have little mercy for the bugs, but even I could not believe the wreckage wrought.

“You can conrrrol it?” asked Chaiz, her large cat-eyes sparkling.

“There are things even Devisers fear. Terrible things from the Old Times. Even I cannot stop this abomination that has been devised by the Old Ones. I did not free it. And I broke no treaty in its emancipation. I warned the Kha'rog to leave the monoliths alone.”

“And how are we to defend ourselves?” I asked.

“We do not,” Shadrack confessed. “We wait till it returns to its hoary subterranean facility -- its mission accomplished -- then we replace the Ogham.”

“How lonnng will that be?” Chaiz purred quietly.

“Too long!” Shadrack replied.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 03:00:01 PM

06/'08 - Fantasy Subgenre

Dark Choice

J.B. Hogan

I swatted at the bloody thing as it flitted back and forth in front of my face. What a nuisance, a real pest. It was just a wee thing and could hardly sting through my crusty skin, but I swung at it again and again.

“Bzzt, bzzt,” buzzed the thing as it spun this way past my big right ear and that way by my shrunken left.

Was the blasted thing trying to speak to me? About what? Why? How did it dare, a thing so puny I could squish it between my cloven hands like the hopping things that I made my food from?

“What, what?” I cried out at the buzzer, swiping my hands above my matted, coarse black hair.

“Bzzt, bzzt,” was all it said.

Tiring of the game, I bent down with a grunt and dislodged an upturned stone from the boggy soil. I held the stone in my thick two-fingered hand and judged its weight. Just right for knocking a pest out of the air. Carefully aiming at the buzzer, I hurled the stone with all my might.

“Bzzt …. Aieee!” the buzzer shrieked as the stone whistled past its annoying little body. A dark limb from a nearby fungus-covered tree also shifted quickly to avoid my air-ripping rock.

“Sorry,” I told the tree. It merely shrugged its branches.

“Zzt,” the buzzer buzzed.

“What?” I said.

The stone, I now saw, in passing my target – as well as the nimble tree – had caused a ripple to appear in the air before me.

“How now?” I snorted, reaching cautiously toward the ripple. The buzzer was quiet for the moment, fluttering near my pointed, hairy ears.

Without warning, then, the ripple – like a whirlpool – pulled me toward and into itself. In a flash I was drawn through it.

On the other side all was bright sun and blue skies, the exact opposite of my dark, dank wood. I wiped my eyes to block the light. When I was able to see, I looked around this strange new place. It was way too clean and neat for me. I was thinking about how I could try to get back to my own land when I turned and saw her.

A maiden. A cheerful, light-haired, beautiful maiden – at least as the human things go, that is. She was standing next to a big rock. In the rock was a sword. There was something familiar about that to me but I wasn’t sure why. This maiden, however, was enclosed in a makeshift prison of thick, twisted grapevines. That wasn’t so familiar.

“Handsome sir,” the girl asked sweetly, “would you please remove yon sword and free me from this awful prison.”

“Handsome?” I asked, wondering what was wrong with the maiden’s eyes. “You’re talking to me?”

I leaned forward to see my reflection in the glistening sword and sure enough I was one of the human things, light-haired, handsome, properly built and appendaged. I leapt back from the shiny weapon.

“P…pull the long blade from the rock?” I questioned.

“Oh, yes,” the maiden said.


“Please,” she begged. I considered for a moment. Why not? What would it hurt?

I leaned forward to pull at the sword, but as I did I thought I saw something strange out of the corner of my eye. The maiden’s lovely white teeth had grown long, sharp and deadly? I looked at her. She smiled back innocently.

Once more I reached for the sword, but this time I turned to watch the maiden. Oh, yes, the long, knife-teeth were there. She tried to hide them with a cough and a hand held up delicately to block my view.

“Uh,” I said, stepping back away from the sword and the stone, “I think I’ll pass if it’s all the same to you.”

“Take that sword,” the maiden ordered me, in a voice like that of a ferocious beast, “and cut the ropes. Release me!”

“Yeah, well,” I said, tilting my head to the side, “maybe next time.”

I turned away from the maiden, who continued to growl and howl and curse me, and looked for the strange ripple in the air through which I had walked before. I was lucky. It was still there.

“Come back here, you miserable cur,” the once-lovely girl bellowed after me.

Without looking back – I could sense those knife-teeth extending down from the maiden’s face, snarling, ready to rip me to shreds – I stepped back through the shimmering ripple and into my own world. I quickly checked my body to see that I was back to my old self. All was as it should be. And, of course, the buzzer was still there, waiting for me.

“Zzt?” it buzzed.

“Don’t ask,” I told it. “Just forget about whatever that was.”

“Bzzt, bzzt,” the buzzer replied.

“I’m hungry,” I told my wee, flitting shadow. “It’s time to get some newts and toadstills. Supper time.”

“Zzt, zzt,” the buzzer commented.

“It’s what I always have for supper,” I said with a shrug, “especially after a hard day’s work saving maidens.”

“Bzzt, bzzt,” the buzzer seemed to be laughing.

I shrugged my shoulders and plodded on in search of my favorite meal. The buzzer stayed nearby, making its sound, but not flitting around me anymore. It flew along at my side like it belonged there. That was alright now, it was no longer a nuisance to me.

[align=center]The End[/align]
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Post October 18, 2008, 03:00:28 PM

06/'08 - Fantasy Subgenre

Death and Taxes

J. Davidson Hero

It was in the city where the oracle sees all, and knows all by the alignment of the stars, that Wor Nerto sat not at the Inn of Delight, but down the street at the seedy dark little establishment known as the Three Fingers.

Those around him had moved cautiously away. The shadows from the sooty fire danced on his great countenance making it a pallid death mask. But those around him did not pull away because of his awesome and terrible demeanor, or his bulging muscles, or the ghastly and near fatal cuts that gushed blood down his springy limbs. For while all of these things were true enough, he did have a terrible demeanor, and bulging muscles, and suffered from grievous wounds, and the rumor of vast treasure newly won surely whetted curiosity, it was the pungent putrid odor that wafted about him that drove the inn’s regular irregulars away.

Wor Nerto had spent the last three days slogging, spelunking, and crab-crawling his way through the always partially full sewer tunnels below the majestic and teeming, squalid, massive city of the oracle. And it was worth it too, for he had tracked down that foul, (yes foul is perhaps too short a word), the foul dwelling of the treasure-hoarding sewer spivel, whose monkey fingers had spirited away so many gaudy and bejeweled anklets which were so very popular among the affluent ladies of the city being the current couture fad.

Yes, the spivel had indeed hoarded a great, great pile of these things, and other trinkets of various value, but truly it was nothing more than a common pest in a city of this size, at least until the fateful day that a particularly favored anklet of the wife of the Consul disappeared. Then the spivel became legend. Then the stories of glorious reward for bravery brought the following to many a great hero’s lips, “Where doth the spivel live?” and “What killeth such as a spivel?” and “I have slain many a spivel indeed.”

But the moment the city’s engineer, small, wiry, yet brilliant, cracked the lid on the great cloacae, bravery waned, bravery wilted, bravery dissipated before the foul wind that rose up from the fetid depths.

Until Wor Nerto, that is. Not one of great nose, no, he hardly noticed his own stink most days. He was brave for greed’s sake. And he was well muscled, and vicious, and while he had not killed a spivel, many another beast he had. With his sword, he lowered himself into the lukewarm stream beneath the city and started to track the spivel.

Now Wor sat, sullen, wanting nothing but the drink and food he had ordered, the heavy leather bag, full of his hard earned treasure, pulling at his hip.

But even as the barkeep set the steaming bowl of gruel before him, and Wor’s evil bloodshot eye glared at the barkeep condemning the gruel’s particularly thin consistency, Gother the tax collector appeared as if by foul sorcery.

Wor stared blankly at Gother’s brown fez festooned with the brocade of the exchequer’s office. The porcine Gother’s face was frozen in a frown, his calculating eyes peering out past a patchy beard covering fatty jowls. Suddenly Wor realized dimly in some seldom used corner of his brain, that this man wanted something from him.

Clearing phlegm from his throat while unrolling a scroll, Gother began: “If thou art named Wor Nerto, and henceforth named slayer of the dread spivel, and claimant of the spivel’s pelf, knowest that it is my office to assess the municipal tax which is to be levied against any commerce not excluding goods and lucre appropriated following the slaying of creatures hell-spawned or otherwise within the city’s walls.”

Wor stared without response, a bit of gruel running down his chin.

“Still further as such lucre must be weighed and value assessed to ascertain the appropriate taxation, said lucre will be expropriated in its entirety to the lower office of the exchequer in the name of his lordship, the Consul.”

Wor’s spoon splattered into the gruel. The lower lid of his left eye began to twitch. He ground his teeth. The cords in his neck began to coil and tighten. He leaned forward to meet Gother’s stare and his fetid breath rolled across the table. His right eye, laced with broken vessels, nearly popped out of his head.

“I’ve killed the spivel. Beware boothaler; I’ll gut you the same.”

Leaning forward Gother smirked with a newfound surety. “Ah, thou art a predictable breed. A detachment of city guards stands outside this inn at the ready. When I walk out of here empty handed, they’ll be coming in.”

With that the obese man rolled the scroll, wiped a fleck of gruel from his face, and exited from the now empty inn. Immediately, neat trim men-at-arms began to pour in. Swords were drawn and they strategically began to spread toward Wor like a stream of fire ants.

With a mad glint in his eye and a snarl that curled his lip into a cruel smile, Wor Nerto backed into the post in the center of the inn. If the mythic spivel could not claim his life, these catchpoles wouldn’t either. He forced his back into the post with all his might as the guards charged simultaneously. And as they thrust home, his great mass wrenched the beam and with a mighty crack the room came down.

As night fell, a bloated Gother stood with whip in hand directing a ramshackle crew. Slowly they upturned stone and splintered beams until at last they marched out with the mighty, massive, broken body of Wor Nerto. Face down, his long bedraggled hair hung low to the ground as did the bag that Gother now deftly cut from his belt knowing in his gloating heart that this fateful day the Consul’s wife would at last reclaim her precious bauble while this brutish oaf met life’s two great certainties, death and taxes.

[align=center]The End[/align]

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