FLASH FICTION INDEX 1 - May 2007-Nov. 2011


Writing challenges, flash fiction, interesting anecdotes, amusements, and general miscellanea.

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Post December 30, 2009, 12:58:49 PM

A Winter Wish Challenge

A Wintry Mixx

By:
Richard Tornello



Winter Solstice week at the Central Deity Training Lyceum, in the Masters office:

"Mixx did what?!!!
"Where did this occur? "
"When, are you sure?"
"What were her instructions?"

"Independent study, go among the beings, and grant a wish." says a voice.

"She certainly did. Send her here, immediately!"

The Lyceum Master says to no one in particular. "Why I have all these gray hairs, they wonder. I can't believe they let HER loose down THERE. Senior project, independent study, and where was her mentor? Sometimes, I wish I were other than here."

***********

"Sir, you wanted to see me?" A short skinny adept stands in front of the Master, thinking, What have I done this time? I stuck to the rules, for once.

"Mixx, please, I'm very interested in your senior project. It seems you completed it with results that are amazing, and, disturbing. Your mentor and others are surprised."

"Oh yes, that." She says, "I thought I screwed up, again."

"Well, yes and no. Just tell me the story as you have it. We're interested in this, Common Cause, as you titled it."

"Gladly."
"I went down to the place I was assigned, small planet, semi advanced in technology, but myth wise, kinda slow. I guess that's why we keep it as a training ground?"

"Yes, yes, go on."

"Well I found one monk and I took over his body, as per regulations."

"Where did you place his atman?" The master's eyes squint.

"It was wintry cold so I put it on ice. He's Okay, I checked before I left, a little confused but fine."




"As proposed, I spent some time listening to the inner workings of the beings. But ALL their thoughts revolved around, toys, sex, money, and power. They all wished for one or all of it."

"All of them?"

"Not all of them, most though, and monks were just as bad. I was about to give up, and ask to rewrite my thesis, when walking around a corner, I saw one being sitting in a café reading a magazine. It wasn't a sex magazine, that much I knew. His mind was foggy. I couldn't get into it. However, out of his mouth came my inspiration."

"He banged the magazine and said, 'Why don't people just have common sense?' "

"What a thought! What a wish! So I granted it, Common Sense, for every one! You should have seen the looks on all the people. Most stopped in their tracks, as if they ran into a wall. Some started crying; others started laughing. But there was calmness after a bit."

The Master, incredulous, asks, "Don't you see what you did?"

"Yeah, I granted a wish for common sense."

"No! We are out of business there because of you. No one is going to put up with the controls we have instituted on that training planet. We spent eons cultivating their fears and superstitions. In one wish granting session, you wiped it out. Would you believe that crap that we've been propagating?
If.
You.
Had.
Common.
Sense?"
The Master's eyes are red coals.

"No!" The adept is stunned. "What are you talking about? WE'RE cultivating fears and superstition? No one mentioned that to me." She says with hope, "Now maybe they can come up to a new level of belief. Something that matches reality?"

"Those monkeys? Not likely. They'll twist anything. We added that to their brain patterns when we made them."

"So you're saying my granting a Winter Solstice Wish for planetary common sense affected the celestial world order?"

The master growls, "In A word, Yes. I have no idea what the Big One's will do."

The student replies emphatically, "Not much as I understand. This is a lock. All independent study projects are kept as learning tutorials for follow-on adepts."

"It was common sense to keeping them in the circles they were going. Now there is no telling what they will do or become." Opinions the Master.

"Better I would hope."

"No, not better. They are a source of energy for us. I…I mean, we, get a lot of power from them. We derive energy from their prayers and gifts. And now you've basically ended it with the wish of common sense."

"Others planets have mythology…."

"They don't kill for it. We use them for games and amusement as well as power."

"I believe I did the correct action. And sir, you are mistaken and mislead."

"I am waiting on the decision to reverse your wish from the higher ups. And along with that, your banishment to that planet you so stupidly corrected. I will leave it up to you to straighten out on your own, with out celestial powers, if I get my wish."

"Sir, no disrespect, I believe you can't see the benefits."

"Benefits? Where? We will have to make a new world, and possibly destroy this one."

"Sir, why, since when?"

"I do it all the time."
"If WE believe that one group becomes a threat to our existence, I terminate their life forces and reapply those forces elsewhere."

Mixx says, "I grant a "common sense" wish There. And Now you and our people are threatened? Something is wrong Here."

The Master, composed, serenely states, "I would have granted common "base" intelligence. Nothing fancy, simple living, no great works, no high end science, nothing other than COMMON, Base, Simple, and not as you did."


****************


"What am I doing…? HERE? What's happening?"

The powers that be speak:
"We granted you, OUR winter solstice gift wish that we grant to one of our own. You wished for a change, it's yours… as You would have."

"Not this… I was thinking… retirement and…"

"Oh, but you are retired. You will not be harmed. You can pick any monastery, ashram, temple, or a cave of your choice."

"Your adept did a good job. We were waiting for one of your students to show creativity, initiative, and spirit."

"She's your replacement."

"Good luck."

"Have a wonderful life."


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Post December 30, 2009, 12:59:33 PM

A Winter Wish Challenge

Ice Age Hunters

By:
Sergio Palumbo



It was very cold, the worst winter Stutters had ever endured. He had gone away from his camp, looking for two flints useful to set fire. It wasn't an easy task to find the right ones and enough wood, too, for getting warm in 14,000 B.C. And fire was life, especially during this period. As a Cro-Magnon man, Stutters well knew that.

He had carried on too far today. So, when he began worrying for the considerable distance to be covered just to come back, he had eventually figured out that--unfortunately--he was lost.

Stutters had a huge forehead, an upright posture and was strong. Black curls, huge nose, long beard, bulging brown eyes and powerful arms, his body covered in fur and sealskin. In his thirties, he was very similar to a modern man--Homo sapiens sapiens--but, in a way, he wasn't at all. Evolution had still to go a long way to our present times.

Stutters kept moving just not to let the intense cold have a deadly grip on him, but the icy empty expanse that was Northern Europe by then--he was slowly walking on at present--gave him no help, as the wind had deleted his own steps which he could have easily retraced to go back home. Other than that, new difficulties were coming closer.

It was a not so rare meteorological event everyone in that area could have often encountered during the coldest months: ice mist, comprising thousands of ice crystals suspended in the air. The Cro- Magnon human didn't grasp at all the science reasons because that happened, but sufficed it to let him remember those weather conditions usually occurred only at very low temperatures, about -40°C, even though in an hypothetical scale of typical winter climates known to him he would simply have called it "very, very freezing".

Suddenly Stutters felt the precariousness of his situation, recalling that so many of his fellows had disappeared forever inside that impenetrable white haze. Indeed, death was a very frequent case during Ice Age.

Things were already bad, but soon they became getting even worse: walking on that hard ground, surrounded by that nippy whiteness in suspension, he run into some big footprints. Very wide. When Stutters' mind started thinking over it, trying to remember what they exactly indicated, he heard the horrifying cry in the distance: a Giant's voice!

Terrified , the human kept his eyes open, looking for a figure nearby… But the heavy mist didn't allow him to watch so far. He wished he only had some fire with him to keep the Giant away...! But he was alone, deep inside an undiscovered land and he couldn't even imagine where he himself was now, so escaping was the only option!

The Cro-Magnon man plucked up courage forcing his stiff legs to walk faster. But his running was difficult and the pursuer was following him around... Two hours after, Stutters' arms were so exhausted he could hold no more the fluttering sealskin hat on his head, his feet were dead tired and he just needed to eat. Then, as soon as the icy mist opened partially, his eyes started searching the area to find his bearings, but he had not enough time to look around: the Giant emerged from the unexpected hole in the bristly haze! His massive body wrapped in a polar bear skin, tough greyish beard mixed with some white snow. Four metres tall, double mandibles, muscles more considerable than a bear's, legs longer than two men's heights put together.

There was not much Stutters could do, but looking at him in awe: that would have been the ancestor of the present-day abominable snow creature, like living in the Himalayas now, if you believe in it... At that time Giants still ran on Earth, a variation from Meganthropus, or Gigantopithecus, an extinct genus of primate, long departed from the evolutionary branch that eventually brought to Man.

The creature looked at him, opened his enormous mouth and went for the poor Cro-Magnon." If only I could have some fire..." Stutters thought again.

Unexpectedly, a gleaming fire erupted from the mist, burning the Giant's butt. Then the same powerful fire erupted again, from the Giant's back and hit the creature, wounding him painfully. Soon after a figure, the hunter's hunter, emerged from a breach along the covering haze: a strange guy, with a mysterious thing in his hands and a long--too long--face enveloped in a glass-like pot.

The figure fired again that sort of weapon and the Giant fell on the ground, helpless and quite dead... The face of the stranger had a look at Stutters through that glassy head covering, his bulb pupils resembled some precious stones, bigger than any other man's eyes he had ever encountered before on those ice plains, then the figure put something on the Giant's body, waved and the corpse started flying, following his command.

Good Heavens! The man thought that--only one minute ago--he was fearing for his life, and now there was a real god before his own eyes. He prostrated to worship him, but the god showed little interest in the human and turned, going away, the Giant's body following him in flight...

Stutters spoke with a lisp "I asked for fire. And I was given fire. Thank Gods!"

So, wish granted.



Ways, inside the spacepod, the tall First Alien - just arrived- looked at the Other Alien, removed the glassy helmet and said -KRTRTSTYSD SDL DR FDYTRT-

(Translation from alien language)

-The next Meganthropus we are looking for is going eastwards…so, we may stay and get warm or... what about a fast hunting? I ran into one of those insignificant furry hominids, not a big prey anyway... do you want it in the meantime...?-

The Other Alien replied -Yeah, why not...? Let's hunt him, too. It would be a fair addition to my collection...-

So the tall First Alien reached his helmet again.

-As you wish...-


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Post December 30, 2009, 01:00:23 PM

A Winter Wish Challenge

Snowing in Space

By:
B.H. Marks



Konosar's readouts were no longer spinning wildly. Which was good. The bad part was that the explorer ship Yan was almost totally gone, the reactor was flat, and the hulk of the spaceship was headed straight at a blue-green sapphire of a planet. The long range sensors were out, but they were close enough for the short range sensors anyway. Hell, it was close enough to see out the window!

Konosar looked over his shoulder at what was left of the bridge. Captain Godoras was slumped over dead in his chair, a long shard of steel pinning him down like an exotic species of bug. Science Officer Bikk was resting his face on his station, one arm dangling towards the floor. The blood had long since stopped dripping down his sleeve.

The ship had been attacked by something days ago. Whoever it was left the ship adrift without any motive power. Konosar's helm station was one of the only things left working on the ship. It was a pity that there wasn't really anything left to run.

At least the fires were out. The aft compartments had run out of oxygen after the first day. The second day Konosar had turned the ship inside out looking for survivors. There were only twenty people in the crew, and they knew each other like family. Five years they'd been out there scanning planets and watching for alien life.

And they'd found it. But the unknown attacker hadn't said a word, just sent light beams and balls of energy through the Yan's lightly armored hull. And left them coasting towards the blue planet ahead.

Konosar had made circuits of the ship every day after that. By day three he'd quit looking for the other half of Rixion's body, and fat Chassarat's body wasn't looking any better as it swelled. So he'd turned the onboard heat down to minimum. To conserve power. Or maybe it was just to conserve the bodies of his friends.

By day six he was spending his time on the bridge. The air was cold, but breathable. The helmet on his survival suit was lying against his back, unused. It would only take a moment to seal it against his neck. But there wasn't any emergency now. The attacker was long gone, and it was just Konosar, the good old spaceship Yan, and that blue planet ahead.

It wasn't fair. On Konosar's homeworld it was wintertime. He'd missed five seasons of Midwinter Festivals, where his mother would bake cakes and cook the sweet soup his father loved. His little sister would be off with that archeologist his senior uncle couldn't stand, and the temperature would be cold enough that the rain would turn to thin ice crystals. The winds would send them swirling along the streets and everyone was happy.

He brushed ice crystals off his console. That wasn't fair either. The surfaces were covered in frozen condensate. Leaking circuits had left long icicles over open hatchways. Little flakes of ice blew out of the air vents, and with a few colorful ribbons and bells, it was practically home.

In a little over a dozen hours the Yan would land on a city on the planet ahead. A tower of smoke would rise up, and night would never end there. Konosar didn't know their names, didn't know their names for the city. He didn't even know the planet's name.

Konosar walked over dead Bikk at the science station. He wished desperately that Bikk hadn't been killed. He'd probably have the exact solution on how to change the ship's vector the tiniest fraction of a degree to miss the city.

He turned around and made his way down to the engine room. It was cold and dead. Just like the crew. Just once, Konosar wished for something. Anything to kick the reactor alive and move the ship just a little bit. Anything to keep the city's lights on. He shoved Chief Engineer Essari's body off the engineering console and slammed a fist on the dead panel. Again. And again. And again. His hand started to hurt, and he scrabbled at his communicator on his hip. He slammed it against the panel, cracking the readouts, slamming it with all the rage and helplessness that he had in him.

Then suddenly the device cracked, and blue lightning arced all over the station. Konosar was thrown away against a wall. He shook his head as the communicator's energy pack crackled and fed back into the panel's sensitive electronics. A harsh buzzer sounded. Explosions shook the engine room.

Explosions! The emergency scuttling charges! And then Konosar remembered why the reactor hadn't been scuttled in the first place. The reactor sailed into space, and swirls of snow roared around him as the Yan's air rushed out through the cracks in the reactor housing. He scrabbled at his emergency helmet, as a blizzard of snow threw him through the air and up against the bulkhead. He bounced off, leaving a green stain on the wall.

And the ship began to turn.

30 June 1908: Tunguska, Russia

"I was sitting on the porch of the house at the trading station, looking north. Suddenly in the north...the sky was split in two, and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared covered with fire. I felt a great heat, as if my shirt had caught fire... At that moment there was a bang in the sky, and a mighty crash... I was thrown twenty feet from the porch and lost consciousness for a moment.... The crash was followed by a noise like stones falling from the sky, or guns firing. The earth trembled.... At the moment when the sky opened, a hot wind, as if from a cannon, blew past the huts from the north. It damaged the onion plants. Later, we found that many panes in the windows had been blown out and the iron hasp in the barn door had been broken."


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Post December 30, 2009, 01:01:10 PM

A Winter Wish Challenge

Ice World

By:
Michele Dutcher



"What's the next star system, Saltz?" asked the Captain to his helmsman.

"17XE23. I hate these check-up missions," answered the tall, veiny, male, his angst barely hidden below his respect for the commander. "I just always wish that we'll find a product of a seeding mission that is prospering."

"You know the directive – seed what seems to be an up-and-coming planet, leave it for a few million of their years, then slip back through the portal to see what happened. Non-interference, you know. Let civilizations develop as they will." The commander looked out through the transparent sides of their bubble of a star-ship, to see a star-system racing towards them. "Which planet was it?"

"Fourth one from the star, sir," reported the onboard ship historian, leaning forward a little towards his holographic console, to get a better view of the system's chart and historical information.

The bubble-ship flew through a spherical cloud of stardust and debris; past orbiting balls of rock and ice; on past giant balls of swirling gases

"There it is sir. Fourth planet from the star…" Saltz's voice trailed off a little as he listened to the ship's detectors. Silence, silence – eventually only a sigh. "I'm sorry, but it looks like another dud, Captain."

The historian began to expound upon facts and calculations now. "The loss of life was probably due to the loss of the planet's molten core. We've been seeing this a lot. The core goes down, the planet loses its magnetic shields, the star's radiation blows away what atmosphere the planet had." He sat back in his seat with a sigh, as the lifeless, red sphere below him slowly rotated on its axis.

"Maybe they moved inward," ventured the Captain with a shrug. "Saltz - any artificial energy readings coming from the third planet?"

The helmsman refocused his search. "I may have something. It's very faint – but probably worth a look."

"That's what we're here for," said the commander as the bubble began to speed towards the next planet in. "Description of overall planetary environment?"

A lavender colored female, a little thicker than the others, brought up equations before summarizing. "There are three land masses separating liquid water. The entire planet seems to be buried beneath a thick layer of ice."

The historian piped up, beginning to get excited. "That's probably why your reading is so slight, Saltz – the signal may be coming from a source beneath the ice – perhaps within the water."

Within ten minutes the galaxy travelling bubble was heat-blasting its way through the frozen cover. Suddenly a plume of steam rose up, encircling the ship as liquid water turned to gas. "Moving towards signal," said Saltz as the orb shot downwards, into the depths. As they descended, odd lifeforms floated past, all being recorded by the historian.

"Could we take in some of these for observation?" asked the historian.

"Let's keep on track for now," answered the Captain. "I want to see what's making that artificial signal. The finding of intelligent life is our primary directive. We can always come back to this."

They were hovering now, the alien bubble floating over six metallic tubes, all of them partially covered with eons of silt from the ocean bottom. "The signal is very clear now, Captain. In one moment, we'll have the translation. It seems to be a loop."

The crew waited silently until a mechanized voice began the translation. "To whoever finds this signal – know that we have been waiting for you. We hope these tubes will not be caskets, but rather sarcophaguses – a mechanism of bringing us or our DNA descendents back to life…To whoever finds this signal – know…" The translator shut off.

"That must be the total of the loop," ventured the historian.

"Is there anything within those tubes able to be re-animated, Merly?" asked the commander turning towards the female.

A moment passed and then, "Nothing, Captain. The time has just been too long. There's just dust left by now."

The historian's shoulders sagged a little now. "I guess we could take back one of the tubes as an artifact. I just wish there would have been someone left."

Suddenly there was a small voice coming over the translator. "Have you come to visit the grave-tubes of the surface dwellers?" it asked quietly.

All on board came to attention. "Yes – yes we have!" answered the Captain, stumbling over his words.

"These surface dwellers had always hoped someone would come. It is good to know you finally came back."

The historian could not help but jump in. "How do you know we have been here before?"

By now, outside the star-bubble, there were thousands of soft lights, as if someone had walked into their backyard on a summer's night to watch fireflies pour down from the hills. "We have always been here, in the deepest depths, watching, far away from the surface dwellers and the devastation they wrecked upon themselves. We are as much children of the molten core beneath us as they were the children of stardust."

"Would you like to come with us, into the heavens?" rushed the historian, overwhelmed. "We could build an environ for some of you aboard our ship."

There was a moment of quiet as a wave of light went through those assembled outside, and then the light washed back towards the starship. "We are content to remain where we have always been."

"Then we'll eventually go on our way without you," said the Captain. "But we'd like to stay for a while and document your world and your culture."

"As you wish." There was silence now, as though the two cultures were resting in the knowledge they were no longer alone. "We have only one request: after you leave, don't wait so long to come back."

Both groups smiled.


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Post December 30, 2009, 01:02:47 PM

A Winter Wish Challenge

- Winner -


Winter of My Disc Content

By:
David Alan Jones



Samantha held a cup of cocoa under her nose and blew steam from its frothy surface. Despite the aroma, she found she had no real desire for the stuff. After two mugs the third was just a brace against the cold. It was either this or the bourbon, and she knew what lay at the end of that road.

Hoarfrost coated her apartment's one tiny window, nearly occluding its view of Sixth Avenue traffic as it muddled through the Village, churning last night's snow into gray-black muck.

Samantha ignored it. The cold outside was the last thing she wanted to think about. She wrapped a free hand about her middle, took a hot sip of chocolate, and turned to consider the cerebral-net system occupying an entire wall of her Spartan living room.

It was the only piece of furniture left in the place, save the secondhand couch balanced on one side by a cinderblock, and an air mattress. She had sold everything else.

At some level Samantha supposed she should be concerned about her preoccupation with the bral-net – she spent most of her free waking hours there – but really, what did that matter? She was three months a widow, and if this was her only way to see Upton, so be it.

"Power," she said. One blue, three-dimensional word appeared, floating and slowly rotating before her: Standby.

Then a feminine voice said, "Hello, Samantha."

"Hello, Rose."

"Shall I cast file Upton-three?"

Sam smiled, nodding.

"Please put down the hot chocolate," said the computer woman.

Samantha placed it on the floor near the couch.

"Casting," said Rose.

Summer light spilled from the apartment window, bringing with it June heat. Passersby on the street traipsed along in shorts and T-shirts.

Upton lay on the couch, pretending sleep, his lithe form stretching from one armrest to the other. No matter how many times Samantha played this disc, she always felt a little thrill of happiness pass through her middle when saw him there.

He peeked at her through one half-lidded eye, and a grin spread his lips.

"You're a horrible liar," said Sam. "That's why you can't act for beans."

He chuckled, opening his dark green eyes.

"Writers don't have to act, sweetness. We do it on the page."

"You should write bumper stickers."

He laughed again, the rolling sound making Sam's heart beat hard with longing and regret. She knelt beside him, running her fingers through his hair, and across his thick chest. At moments like this it was hard to disbelieve her eyes, her hands, her nose. With Rose's help, Sam had reconstructed her husband down to his scent, that slight alkaline aroma that reminded her of fresh spring air along mountain trails.

He was perfect.

"Affection in the afternoon?" he asked. "I feel like the benefactor of government largess."

A certain knowing smile played across her husband's lips, and Sam said, "If you make that large ass joke again I'm walking out."

He started to laugh, but she stopped him with a kiss, pressing hard against his warm, full lips. When she pulled away Upton had an entirely different look on his face.

"Do you love me?" she asked.

He gave her an indulgent smile, his eyelids drooping in that way they did when he was randy.

"You know I do."

She rested her head on his chest, hiding her face, and began to softly cry.
Upton's hand pressed into her hair and she felt him sit up.

"Babe, what's wrong?"

She couldn't tell him he wasn't real. She couldn't tell him he died and left her alone. Cerebral Upton believed in himself, in his make-believe world.

"I wish we had gotten pregnant," she said instead. "I wish we had shared that."

He was silent for a long moment, the sound of traffic filling the gap. Then Upton whispered, "It's not too late, Sam. You know I love kids. We don't make a lot of money, but hell, who does anymore?"

Samantha smiled. It was bitter, and wry, but somehow happy despite that. Upton would have said the same when he lived. He would have given her a baby anytime she wanted, but she had insisted on waiting until...what? More money? More stability? Since Upton passed she had less of both. Whatever she had been waiting for hadn't come.

"You're right," she said, rubbing the tears away, giving herself back to the computerized dream – playing her part to perpetuate the fantasy.

"And there's no time like the present," said Upton, pulling her atop him. He sank one strong hand into her black hair and kissed her thoroughly.


# # #


Doctor Morris stepped into the tiny examination room, a file in his hand, a smile on his lips.

"Well, it's official," he said.

Samantha swallowed, her eyes wide, bulging even.

"You're joking."

Morris looked taken aback for a moment, as if he were instantly changing gears in his head. He knew Samantha as a newlywed – she had never bothered to tell her GP about Upton's death – and probably assumed his news was confirmation of a planned pregnancy. Now the look on his face said he might have just given a cheating bride some very bad news indeed.

"No joke," he said. "You're about two months along." He paused, watching her expression. "Is something wrong?"

"I haven't had sex in nearly six months. My husband died." Sam hated being so blunt, but it saved further explanation.

Morris thought she was lying; she saw it in his eyes.

Sam shook her head. It didn't matter. She was pregnant.


# # #


"That's wonderful, babe!" said Upton, swinging her in circle.

"It's nuts," said Sam. "You aren't real, Upton. You're a computer image in my brain."

Upton tilted his head. "It's all a story, Sam. And I'm a writer."

"The hell does that mean?"

When next he spoke, Upton's voice lifted, taking on a familiar, feminine tone. "It means, Samantha, that you get your wish."


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Post January 30, 2010, 11:26:21 AM

Trying Time Travelers Challenge

The challenge was to tell the tale of a world filled with too many time travelers.


Example story:


Famous

By:
N.J. Kailhofer



Sid pulled the covers up over their naked bodies.

"See?" the voice asked. "Did you see that technique? I told you he had exceptional delivery."

"I don't know..." the second voice replied. "I mean, if this is what he's got for the downtown girls, what's he saving for when he meets his wife?"

Sid poked his head out from under the covers and glared at the two. "She is my wife! We got married today, and you're interrupting our wedding night."

The two exchanged worried looks and typed furiously on their datapads.

Sid paused. "You're from the 51st century, aren't you?"

The taller one nodded.

"I knew it!" Sid swore. "Get out of here!" 51s are obsessed with 'ancient sex.' Perverts.

The pair vanished.

Why were they so surprised that Hazel was my wife? Shouldn't they know?

She cleared her throat and turned his head to look back at her. "Remember why we're here, dear."

"Oh, right. Sorry."

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

Sid ran into an alley and ducked behind a dumpster. This traveler had been hard to shake. Why the hell do they follow me, study me? What have I done that was interesting enough? Certainly nothing he could think of. Hell, who am I kidding? I've never done anything right, let alone important. I'm a loser. Unemployed. Useless.

He hoped he could think of anything that would life his spirits, but he couldn't. He couldn't figure out why Hazel wanted to marry him, either. He wasn't all that lovable, or good looking. All he had was technique that impressed sex-obsessed 51s.

Small comfort.

The one that was following him stepped in front of the dumpster, but hadn't seen Sid yet. This chrononaut was different. He looked exactly like Sid, like a twin. And he was drunk. He seemed like he could barely stand.

Sid kicked, knocking the man's feet from underneath him. He hit his head hard on the dumpster on the way down. Sid jumped on his chest.

"Hey!" the man protested. "What did you do that for? All I did was come to watch!"

Sid pressed his knee to the man's chin. "Who are you? Why do you look like me?"

The man laughed. "Because I am you! I'm from the future!"

A pair of time travelers blinked in. They moved to the side of the alley and pointed their camera at them.

Sid said, "Prove it."

The man paused, blearily. "You've got this wart that won't go away, but you don't want anybody to know where it is. You're embarrassed about it. You won't show your doctor. Not even Hazel knows in your time."

Sid paused, the guilt obvious on his face. "What did you come to watch?"

Future Sid grinned. "You're gonna break time, today."

"What do you mean, 'break' time?"

Three more travelers appeared.

Future Sid closed his eyes. "Broken, as in 'doesn't work right anymore.' All the experts insist Einstein had it right, that you couldn't go backwards until you snapped the flow with a paradox. Now, every time a person goes back, time is fixed, again, from that point in history, backwards. You can't change anything. Try to shoot Kennedy. You'll miss. I know, I tried. It's just more of the 'magic bullet' mystique. Can't burn the draft copy Declaration of Independence on Jefferson's desk. It's now fireproof, somehow." He shrugged. "I don't know why."

A large traveler with a handlebar mustache leaned in close and took a picture. "Thanks."

Future Sid made a retching noise and Sid dove off just in time before most of half a bottle of scotch found it's way to the past's pavement.

A piece of paper was thrust into Sid hand. "Can I have your autograph?"

"What a mess," said a familiar voice behind him.

"Hazel?" both Sids said in unison.

"Yes, Hazel," She pulled a handgun from a pocket.

A half-dozen temporal tourists appeared and lined up with the others.

Future Sid shook his head. "What're you doing? You can't shoot anybody here."

She smiled. "Yes, I can." She shot Future Sid in the chest. He hit the ground dead.

Sid dropped to his knees beside Future Sid's body. He looked so strange dead. "Oh, honey. You killed me. I'll never have a future."

"Sure you will. You invented time travel. It happened already for me. He was from the future, so I could kill him. That doesn't break any rules."

What looked like a class trip blinked in.

"But why'd you kill me, er, him?"

She frowned and pointed the gun at Sid. "You were sleeping around on me."

"N-No," Sid stammered, "I didn't. He must have done that, not me. I've only slept with you in the last three years, and I can't go back in time, so that's all there is."

"I know," Hazel said. "That's why I came back to do it with you before you cheated on me."

Sid's head reeled. "You cheated on me with me?"

"Excuse me," said a traveler, "could you turn to the side a little? My kid can't see."

"Yes." She walked forward and placed the gun against his head. She leaned close and whispered in his ear. "There's something you need to know. I'm pregnant, and it's yours. Yours, not his."

"I thought you couldn't do that."

A steady stream of travelers popped in, too many to count.

"Me, too. Then I found out that I could affect things in the past. Witch Hazel was named after me. I realized that I was a part of the paradox, the one who really caused it, because when I pull this trigger, you'll die. You're dead, so you can't go on to invent time travel, but you already did. Paradox. Everything works like it's supposed to."

Sid heard the sound of the bullet. As his vision narrowed to a tunnel, he was struck by all the flash bulbs from the cameras going off.

It was like he was a rock star.


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Post January 30, 2010, 11:27:22 AM

Trying Time Travelers Challenge

Traffic Control

By:
Richard Tornello



A Time/Space Traffic Control Specialist calls out, “Sir, we have a situation here.”

“What now?” demands the overworked Supervisor

“We have 3 incoming Not-OUr-Time-Zoners all vectoring in on the same time line!”

The supervisor states, “What do they think we are, a major time port? We’re a small regional port. Some one gave these incomings NOUTZers the wrong Planck coordinates. We’re not equipped for the necessary recalculations.”

Then he questions in a lighter tone designed to keep things calm, “I wonder if this is going to be worse than when we got two of the same identity from different time lines last year? You should have seen their faces as they stared at each other.”

Light laughing is heard all around.

He thinks to himself, we get the mandate and no funds as we were promised two years ago. We should close all access to NOUTZ except to big port cities.

“Sir what is it about our time/location that drives people here?” Asks one of the specialists. He’s the new guy sent TDY to this small port for training. He’ll be moving on soon.

The supervisor replies, “We’re a small art community. We have less hassles and crime than the bigger Time Port Centers have. As you’ve seen yourself it’s a nice place to relax and just enjoy life. Trouble is, the increase in time dependent populations has caused us to increase the tax base, and “clean up” the downtown center. We’re loosing the populations that made this place what it is, and what it was. These boorish time travelers have changed everything.”

“I hate these time zoners. It was better when it was strictly open to the rich and politically appointed NOUTZers. They accepted the quaintness of our town and left it as it was. Now that we’re commanded to accept all the time lines, it’s become a mess. We’re opened up to all the time lines and populations. They’re mostly ignorant, low class, morons and idiots. This is just too much to take on.”

“Okay, specialist,” he says, “back to these incoming. Vector 3010 to the next port across the river.” The supervisor points to another out lying port. “Can you communicate with those three NOUTZers?”

“No sir, I tried” says the specialist. “The gamma ray black holes that they are using for the energy are of a new type. It’s blocking all communications. We only have external non-local com-beacons letting us know location or speed. We haven’t been upgraded to get both at once or to communicate. We have no directional override.”

“Ah shit,” the supervisor exclaims in an uncharacteristic manner. “This is really, not good. Get on the comm immediately. Inform the main control center we have a major situation here. Use the red phone.”

“Sir, I did that. We’re not getting a response. My guess is someone is not at their terminals. And, no one is backing up. This should have come up red on their screens long before now.”

“We’re going to have three NOUTZers hitting the same spot with small black hole drivers. Has anyone got a handle on just what we can expect?” asks the supervisor.

A young trainee, ashen faced raises his hand, “Sir, I studied at the university for Advanced Dimensional Direction, and this was a worse case scenario, and...”

The supervisor cuts him off, “Thanks, but you don’t have to go on. I think I have an idea.”

“Sir, we are three timearcs to convergences,” a controller announces.

The supervisor is sweating. This was never supposed to happen.

“Gentlemen and Ladies, we have a situation here. It’s worse than the permanent residency we have given to some of these time-independent people. I suggest you call your loved ones and speak to them. This may be your last conversation.”

The traffic control center is hushed.

Some are crying. One person asks if this is a training program.
“It’s got to be,” he exclaims, “it’s got to be!”

The supervisor states, “Folks, this is real! We have 3 incoming, vectoring on the same Planck-point, at exactly the same time. Some one screwed up at the vectoring centers. And, we can’t make the corrections.”

Meanwhile a call from the Main Control Center comes in. It buzzes.

“Two timearcs to convergences,” states a voice.

“Put THEM on speaker. I want you all to hear this,” commands the Supervisor.

From Main Control, different, frantic voices are heard:
“What is going on?!!!”
“Our sensors pick up a 3 vector impact in your port.”
“What the hell is going on?”
“Change their direction by a Planck length. You’re supposed to have the control override software!”
“Do it now! What’s wrong with you people?”

The supervisor, in his calm training voice, “Roger that. The software was never sent. I called. You told us there was a funding issue. We’ve been calling to inform you of our situation. Since no one answered, I assumed you had it. We have a disaster on hand.”

“One timearc to convergences,” is heard.

“You have to be kidding! There has to be a misread in the sensors!” the voice from Main Control is shouting. “I hate these NOUTZers. They’ve done nothing but screw up our lives since this universal time travel was forced from the future.”

“30 seconds to convergences.”

“It’s been nice boy and girls… it’s been nice.”
“I wonder why they didn’t see this one?” The supervisor says to himself as he sits down, stares out the windows, and waits.

The three time ships arrive at exactly the same moment, in exactly the same geolocation, not off a nanometer. Their programming was perfect. The three controlled back holes escape containment. The containment fields were never designed for this type of impact. There is one blinding glow that is just as quickly extinguished as the black holes consume each other. The now large, single uncontained, rapidly growing, rotating black hole gobbles all matter inflowing. A new universe is blown through one end and rapidly inflates.

The future time lines are cut-off.


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Post January 30, 2010, 11:28:33 AM

Trying Time Travelers Challenge

The Wilcox Paradox

By:
J. Davidson Hero



Max fumbled with the virtual control pad. He slid his breakfast plate out of the way. The display could be found throughout the apartment on every appliance and various solid surfaces and allowed him to control everything from lights to the food he’d have for breakfast, but he had never found the one built into the kitchen table practical. He was always pushing plates and glasses out of the way to see a show or search for something on the Internet. He flipped through channels and finally stopped on TSNN, the network devoted to monitoring the so-called time sphere. Artifacting splattered across the display as sunlight spilled off the sphere’s silver mirror-like finish and momentarily overstimulated the camera’s lens. The camera operator was making an adjustment; there was a new swirling opening in the sphere’s side and six or seven bald individuals came walking out. They proceeded to a gate in a fence near the edge of the screen, spoke with one of the military personnel stationed there, and then continued off the screen and into the unknown.

“So, you’re from the future, huh?” The two strange individuals sitting across the table from Max nodded. They had a plastic look about them, no hair to speak of, pale complexions, perfect teeth, proselytizing smiles. They wore white one-piece jumpsuits. The one who introduced himself as Maaron seemed older, but Max couldn’t really say why.

“Yes, we are,” said Maaron, “and we are very honored to be the ones to deliver this wonderful news to you.” The second one nodded quickly in agreement, as he seemingly disinfected a small device he had moments earlier held against Max’s finger.

“Okaaaay,” Max said letting his skepticism ooze through. The time sphere had appeared twenty years earlier, one day in June in a cornfield in Iowa. It was the size of four city blocks, a giant shiny ball bearing half-buried in the dirt. It, of course, changed everything. Max was about twelve at the time. He remembered watching the cable news channels, the military swarming around the sphere, the rampant fear, the endless speculation, the secret government negotiations with the strange bald people that came out of it, and then the endless conspiracy theories that followed. Max remembered it being very exciting at the time. For five years protesters surrounded the fenced-in sphere. Then it was leaked that some of the country’s new-found prosperity was the result of technology from the future. At some point there was a Kumbaya moment, but Max couldn’t remember when. He was in high school at the time and wasn’t paying much attention anymore. After that the time sphere and its inhabitants who would come and go with a lingering air of celebrity all became pretty much commonplace.

“So what’s the wonderful news?” Max asked, making air quotes with his fingers around the word wonderful, assuming these future men would miss his patronizing attempt at humor.

Maaron leaned forward and spoke in a precise oily whisper. “Our genetic test here has confirmed it. You, Max Morton, are one of the chosen ones.” He made a strange circular gesture with his hand at the end of this pronouncement. The other man made the same motion, mouthing the words “chosen ones” at the same time.

Max was starting to wish he hadn’t answered the door. A boyish awe had given him little opportunity earlier to consider the consequences of inviting them in.

“And what does that mean, exactly?” Max asked.

Maaron sat up straighter; the other time traveler bowed his head and folded his hands. “Three hundred and sixteen years from now, Wilcox comprehended the true nature of space and time. And with this perfect knowledge, he traveled backwards. But then, he created the great paradox. And he could no longer go forward.” Maaron stopped and both men looked back at Max.

“Umm… and a… this paradox was…?” Max asked realizing they expected his participation in this strange liturgy.

Maaron continued, “Wilcox fell in love with his own ancestor and, in his arrogance, tried to return with her to his own future.”

“Riiiiiight. And what does this have to do with me?” Max was starting to calculate how he could usher them both back to the door. They were rather small and probably frail.

“You, Max Morton, you are one of the ancestors of Wilcox, one of approximately 952 in this generation, but essential as any other and therefore one of the chosen ones.” Both time travelers again made the strange circular gesture.

“Okay,” Max said raising his voice in irritation. “But what does being a chosen one mean?”

Maaron smiled a broad synthetic smile. “Being chosen means you will not pass away as all others, but instead will join us in the ark where you will be safe… forever.”

“What?” Max stood up abruptly in protest. The rush caused him to see large black spots; he clutched at the table to steady himself but only managed to slump back into his seat, barely able to control his limbs.

Maaron’s smile slowly contracted and disappeared as he spoke. “You see, Wilcox created the great paradox and it unraveled all time that was to come after it, leaving only oblivion. Believing that in time he could solve this puzzle and find a way to fix that which he had broken, he traveled further back in time, exacerbating the problem. He realized he had to ensure that his ancestors weren’t lost to the oblivion he was creating, thus endangering his own existence, and so he constructed the ark and before he passed away he charged his own descendents with the task of finding and securing each of his ancestors. Missing one would doom us all.”

Max could hear but not speak. There were more time travelers waiting outside and they helped move Max into a waiting car.

“You were the last we needed in this generation,” Maaron said. “Tonight, the ark will move backwards in time fifty more years and tomorrow will never exist.”


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Post January 30, 2010, 11:29:38 AM

Trying Time Travelers Challenge

Family Feud

By:
Michele Dutcher



“And remember to exercise, Gwynn – at least 30 minutes every day,” instructed the shortish woman in her 50s, as the trio quickly walked north on 2nd Street. “If you can’t take care of the planet, you can at least take care of your own body.”

“I got you here, didn’t I,” muttered the 20 something woman under her recently liquored breath.

“I’m sorry, Neenee – we didn’t hear what you said”, inquired the old man standing beside the first questioner. He touched the young woman on her arm, forcing her to turn towards the couple. “I hope you don’t mind us calling you ‘Neenee’ – it gives us such a hoot!” The elderly couple just laughed and laughed, the frail man throwing his arms about like a seagull in a high wind. He turned to his wife, schmoozing down to her eye level. “I do love these little visits, sweetums, but the heat is just beastly!” He took a silk scarf from a sequined belt tied loosely around his waist, and rubbed it against his forehead, with as much flair as was humanly possible.

“I’ll certainly give exercising my best shot,” answered Gwynn before sliding into the next dive bar along the street. “At least yours will be the last generation I’ll have to deal with.”

“Oh, now, don’t be that way, Neenee,” fussed the elderly woman, keeping the door open long enough for her companion to sashay inside. “You sound as if I’m some kind of disappointment.”

“Brian, a drink please,” demanded the young woman, hitting the palm of her hand against the countertop.

The bartender turned around, being irked somewhat, but seeing Gwynn’s companions, he softened up. “Fuzzy Navel?”

“Make it a Hairy Navel, Brian - If you would be so kind.”

“Brian?” shouted Edgar, waving his scarf over the counter. “This can’t be…is this him?”

Gwynn shot her descendents a look that she hoped would stop them from saying anything further, but to no avail.

“Well, it does add up. Gwynn Stewart and Greg Cornish. Is your last name Cornish?” she finally demanded.

“No, madam, my last name is ‘Nunnayerbeeswax’… Greg W. Nunnayerbeeswax.” The bartender threw his bar towel upon his left shoulder and leaned forward on the counter, exposing a muscular upper body in his tight, white, tee-shirt.

Edgar giggled wildly. “Isn’t he just scrumptious, Edweena! I can see why he was the one, NeeNee…you sly old dog. Maybe on our next visit we’ll arrive ten minutes early and I’ll give you a little competition, Neenee.”

Gwynn rolled her eyes, praying quietly for her descendents to just shut the freak up.

“Come on, Gwynn,” said the bartender, edging in towards Gwynn with a playful look on his face. “Maybe they have the right idea. It does happen anyway – so why don’t we start this line of descendents right here, right now, right on this bar.”

“I’m with you,” laughed Gwynn with obvious delight. She was on her knees now on the barstool, crawling onto the counter, beginning to undo her belt buckle.

The old woman was obviously upset by this turn of events. “Well I never,” she exclaimed before leading Edward out of the dive bar.

Gwynn quickly settled back onto her barstool. “Yeah, I’ll bet you never, and certainly not with him!” Those sitting around the bar laughed quietly at the spectacle.

Greg had moved to help other customers at the far end of the bar, but after a bit, he moved down the counter and smiled at Gwynn. “Did I make your drink strong enough?”

She looked up at him and nodded. “The drink is working its magic, one more time.”

“They make you crazy don’t they? – the future people.”

“My…OUR…descendents are just so annoying. People in the old days didn’t know how good they had it when everyone stayed in their own time.”

“It’s probably just because it’s June 9th back here. You know how crazy they are about HIS birthday 150 years from now.”

“Yeah, what’s that about? He’s a gay pirate afterall.”

“He says he’s not gay,” said Greg.

“Even with the little sunglasses and the whole Mad Hatter thing?”

“He has kids,” said Greg, shrugging his shoulders. “Your guess is as good
as mine.”

“Well, if he has kids, I hope his descendents are making him as miserable as mine are making me.”

“The ones that make me nuts are the ones that try to blend in, just watching me, not saying anything.” Greg looked nervously around the bar.

A light appeared at a corner of the bar, starting out as big as a pen light, eventually widening into a hole in the fabric of time 6 foot wide. “Great-great-grandma Gwynn!” shouted the three people who stepped out, all headed for the woman at the bar.

Without warning, Gwynn got off her barstool and walked towards the new arrivals. The new trio excitedly held out their elbows in greeting when
Gwynn pushed passed them, jumping into the time portal, which closed immediately.

As the trio in the bar began to fade into non-existence, half-a-dozen other patrons did the same.


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Post January 30, 2010, 11:30:21 AM

Trying Time Travelers Challenge

Open Season

By:
McCamy Taylor



The Visitors began to descend upon Old Dimebox, Texas in late April. By August, temperatures were hot---and so were the tempers of the locals. Time travelers had become a fixed feature in the world’s sinking cities, places like New Orleans and Venice. They were drawn to war zones, such as the never ending conflict in the Congo. They took lots of pictures of barefoot children with swollen bellies---but they never, ever offered the kids money or even a bite to eat. They claimed that they were not allowed to “get involved”, for fear of changing the future.

By summer’s end, Old Dimebox was no longer recognizable. The Visitors were everywhere. They camped in people’s meadows, without asking permission, setting up ugly little tents that looked like enormous cow patties. A few of the older residents said that it was just like Woostock, except more hippies and less music.

It was only a matter of time before one of the locals snapped.

William Henry McAllister, known to his friends as Barefoot McAllister, was late for a meeting with the bank. He had finally persuaded the loan officer to renegotiate the mortgage on his solar farm. With electricity prices rising, in large part due to the Visitors’ demands for power to run their strange machines, McAllister’s farm should have been in the black. However, it had been an unusually rainy summer in central Texas.

At twelve thirty, he attempted to drive his pickup truck down the dirt road that bisected his property. A hundred yards from the highway, the electric engine died—even though he had charged it up fully the night before.

He sat there, gripping the steering wheel in both hands, sweat trickling down his brow into his eyes. The set of his shoulders would have warned his friends and neighbors that he had reached the boiling point. The time travelers, so knowledgeable in some ways, were ignorant when it came to most social customs.

A Visitor approached the driver’s side of the pick up. The sun flashed off the shiny metallic fabric of his close fitting hooded jumpsuit. For some reason, all the Visitors in Old Dimebox wore those suits, though when they traveled to other parts of the world, they tried to dress like the natives.

“Morning,” the Visitor said in a ridiculous imitation of a Texas drawl. “Looks like Felix got hungry last night.” He indicated his “dog”, a small robot which walked on four legs but which bore no other resemblance to man’s best friend.

Had the Visitor said “Sorry” and maybe punctuated that word with a sheepish grin, McAllister would have swallowed his anger and let it pass. However, the Visitor just stared at him through those outlandish goggles they all wore.

Barefoot snapped. He grabbed his shotgun and fired it at the robot which had just cost him his farm. The pellets did not even dint the “dog’s” hide. So, McAllister pointed the weapon at the Visitor and blew his head off.

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

They held his trial in November. It should have been hunting season in central Texas, and they should have had trouble forming a jury of McAllister’s peers. However, wild animals were protected, now that there were so few of them left. The only way a buck would get shot nowadays was if some school kid decided to take its picture.

At four thirty on Monday afternoon, the attorneys wrapped up their arguments. The jurors barely listened. They all knew what had provoked Barefoot. Each of them had been forced to contend with arrogant Visitors, and they were pissed. It took them three days to decide their fellow townsman’s fate, but only because they could not figure out a good reason to find him Not Guilty---he had already told the court that he intended to blow the Visitor’s head off and yes, he had a pretty good idea that would kill a man from the future the same way it would kill someone from the present.

When the foreman read the jury’s decision “We find the defendant not guilty of the crime of murder, because how can you kill someone who ain’t been born yet?” the locals were jubilant. No matter how hard the judge pressed his electronic gavel button, they would not stop celebrating. McAllister was carried from the courtroom on the shoulders of his friends and neighbors. Even the banker was there, promising to take care of his mortgage problems. It was the best day in Barefoot’s life----

Unfortunately, it was also his last. When word reached the future (in a matter of nanoseconds) about the jury’s ruling and its implication for Visitors----

“You know how savage those primitives are,” said the Prime Minister of North America, Risa Elizondro McMasters Smith. “If they find out that one of their courts has sanctioned murder, it will be open season on time travelers. I consider this an act of war. You know what to do,” she told the Army Chief of Staff with a significant look.

It was an unofficial action, of course. As far as anyone would ever know, the maze of underground gas wells and pipelines which crisscrossed the state of Texas just decided to explode, with the worst damage centered in Old Dimebox. An enormous fireball, the size of Tokyo Tower II shot up into the blue, cloudless Texas autumn sky, incinerating millions of locals---and destroying all records of Barefoot McAllister’s trial.

The Visitors, who had come to Old Dimebox specifically to witness the worst natural gas disaster in history, were safe inside their shock absorbent temperature controlled shelters and flame retardant suits. They got some excellent footage of the explosion and its aftermath, and then they packed up and headed home----blissfully unaware of their own role in the disaster which had leveled the two hundred year old Texas town.


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Post January 30, 2010, 11:31:47 AM

Trying Time Travelers Challenge

Translation of a Historical Document

By:
Casey Callaghan



(Note: The original document was found at Archaeological Site 0732-9324. This is the best translation we have, rendered into the modern alphabet. Fortunately, though written, it was never delivered, as it would have immediately led to the premature discovery of the Time Travel Historian's Society had it been found).

To His Imperial Majesty:

I have, over the past hour, met at least fifteen people who claim to be visitors from the future. This claim, of course, is ludicrous; it does not take a genius to see that these men are all spies. I suspect that most of them are Russian in origin, but I have no proof of that other than that one of them mentioned Moscow when engaged in conversation.

As I was badly outnumbered, I felt that my humble self would be of more use to the Emperor in warning him of these invaders than in killing them immediately; I could not, myself, have stopped more than two of them before being killed, and the others may have at that point hidden, unknown to the loyal subjects of your Imperial majesty.

I had been on my way to pay a visit to my sister, here in Shima Surgical Clinic, where she was undergoing treatment for an ankle which she had carelessly sprained the day before (that is, the fifth of August) when I met them. There were large numbers of them, walking along the pavements and the streets, and, much like ghosts, through the walls and other people. This latter behaviour in particular was extremely shocking, but it quickly became clear to me that they were neither demons nor ancestors. One of them pointed to me and said something in a strange language (I presume that this was Russian, but as I have never heard Russian I cannot be certain), and within moments all fifteen had surrounded me and were asking the strangest questions.

I know that it is often surprising what spies for the enemy would want to know, but I fail to see what enquiring as to the nature of this humble servant's latest meal, or the amount that one would pay for a fresh egg, is of any particular use to the Russians - or anyone else, for that matter. I have prepared a full list of the questions that were asked, which I shall enclose within this letter. No doubt they only asked whether this was indeed 1945 in order to support their ludicrous tale.

As a loyal servant of my Emperor, I naturally refused to make any word of answer, at which they fell to argument, first with me and then, as I remained silent, with each other. They claimed to be researchers from the far future; however, this they were evidently not, for any researchers from the far future would naturally also be subjects of your Imperial majesty's honoured descendants and, when I asked which Emperor was reigning in their age, they said that there was no Emperor.

Having thus satisfied myself that they could not be what they claimed, I managed to escape from them and hurried to the hospital. I noted the clock as I came in: 8:00, August the sixth. At the time, I also noted a radio report indicating that a few enemy planes had been sighted, no doubt too few to be on any mission but reconnaissance.

I do believe, however, that these ghostly spies are important to the plans of our enemies, and I thus must urge your Imperial majesty to act swiftly in dealing with this new outrage. I also suspect that the existence of these ghostly spies is the reason why the enemies of the Empire have not yet bombed this fair Imperial city of Hiroshima.


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Post January 30, 2010, 11:32:37 AM

Trying Time Travelers Challenge

The Last Thing He Needed

By:
J. B. Hogan



The last thing Steve Brannon needed today, of all days, was for one of the time travelers – “temporal observers” some called them – to show up. Alternately praying for good luck and mildly cursing the ubiquity of the observers, whose observing was getting pretty darned annoying of late, Steve drove his sputtering ’93 Corolla through town to his fiancé Jill’s house.

It was a fine, spring morning – sunny, bright, and beginning to warm nicely. Steve was dropping by before work, not his usual style, to spring the big question on Jill. He was hoping to catch the observers off-guard, make his move while they were still sleeping, or whatever it was they did when they weren’t interfering in every single moment of the world’s waking life.

At first the observers had freaked everybody out, scared the pants off of them. It was a pretty good shock to learn that the 33rd century had figured out time travel, but luckily they weren’t malignant beings at all, just seemed like regular people – with odd clothing styles.

After a few months, their daily, constant emerging as if from nowhere and their incessant watching and recording became mundane – if still unsettling at times. They would unexpectedly appear in your kitchen while you were trying to butter toast, materialize in your cubicle at work, in a flash fill up all the empty seats at a ball game.

But disasters, oh, boy, that was their favorite. They loved disasters. If there was the least little fender bender, there they were. Any kind of crime – zillions of them. Tornadoes, hurricanes, snow flurries, a dust devil – they were all over it. Maybe there will be a fifty-car crash this morning (with no injuries), Steve fantasized as he neared Jill’s house.

“Yieee!” he suddenly cried out.

There was one, right in the seat next to him. A female. Wearing some sort of costume that barely hid the parts that were ordinarily, or supposed to be, hidden – at least here in the early twenty-first century.

“Who the heck is that?” Jill demanded to know the minute she opened her front door to Steve and the highly observable observer.

“I can explain,” Steve said lamely.

He was hoping Jill would understand he had nothing to do with the presence of the curvy temporally vacationing one.

“You’d best, buster,” Jill frowned as the lovely observer smiled shyly.

Steve considered taking his shirt off and putting it on the woman but he didn’t know that he could even do that.

“I…I…came over early to ask you …” he instead muttered to Jill.

“What” she asked, placing one arm on her hip in a, Steve thought, rather defiant manner.

The observer smiled and winked at Steve and turned so that both he and Jill could see her classic profile.

“Uh…,” Steve tried again.

“Get it out, mister,” Jill prompted him. This wasn’t going how Steve had imagined.

Not knowing what else to do, he impulsively pulled a small box out of his pocket and thrust it at Jill.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“O…open it?” Steve said meekly.

The observer wiggled her shoulders seductively and tossed back her blue-hued mane of hair. Steve was briefly mesmerized. Briefly. He was brought back to his own real time by the impact of the box he’d handed to Jill. It careened off his chest and hit the floor, the engagement ring coming out of the box and sliding across the floor. The observer aimed some sort of device at the skidding ring and then a flash went off.

Great, Steve thought, now there’s a record of my idiocy up in the 33rd century.

He quickly retrieved the ring but as he turned towards Jill’s door again, she slammed it shut. Hard.

For some reason, Steve checked his watch.

“Oh, my God,” he exclaimed. “I’m gonna be late to work and I have to give a presentation.”

He raced to his car and jumped in. The blue-haired 33rd century babe reappeared beside him, blinking into view like a projected hologram. Man, that was bugging him. Steve turned angrily towards the observer but she just smiled sweetly, pressed something and vanished. He thought she might have mouthed “sorry” just as she disappeared – might have, who knew?

Racing towards work, Steve tried to remember how he was going to open the presentation and how, if he did well, he was going to approach his boss about a raise. Jill would forgive him, maybe, if he could get a promotion or more money at work.

His cell phone rang just as he was pulling into a parking space at work. It was his mother. Jill had called her. Told her everything. Told her about the hot temporal observer. His mother was adamant. He had to stop screwing his life up, bringing a space alien with him to propose to his girlfriend of all things.

“Bye, mom,” he said finally, dropping his phone to make it seem he’d lost cell service.

He would apologize to her and Jill later. Alone, hopefully.

“Okay,” he said to himself. “Straighten up. Go get ‘em.”

“Oh, no,” Steve wailed, looking in the rear view mirror, “not again.”

There were two new observers in the back seat, dressed like businessmen – even carrying briefcases. They smiled at Steve in the mirror.

“Please,” Steve begged, “I’ve got a presentation to give. I’m gonna ask for a raise.”

“No problem, Stevie,” he easily read the lips of one of the observers, “It’ll be fun. You’ll see.”

With a deep sigh, Steve leaned his head against the steering wheel causing the horn to wail. He made no effort stop it. In the back seat, the observers looked at each other and shrugged. If Steve could have seen their lips again he could have read them one last time.

“Boy,” the one who had spoken to Steve before said to his partner, “they sure are a touchy bunch, these primitive earthlings.”

“They sure are,” his partner agreed, “very touchy indeed.”


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Post January 30, 2010, 11:33:25 AM

Trying Time Travelers Challenge

Time Travelers All

By:
David Alan Jones



Starship Clearwater, 3.5 million metric tons of human ingenuity and brilliance, tacked galactic south until its proper motion matched that of its white dwarf engine star, Clydesdale.

"We're in position," said Stocking, the pilot.

Dr. Gregg Kavet, Clearwater's director, nodded. "Ready to give old Mother Nature a pinch?" he asked the ship's resident astrophysicist, Dr. Sing Tzu.

The Asian man nodded and Kavet said, "All right, give Clydesdale the reins."

Outside, the star field adjacent and about 0.2 AU from Clydesdale began to ripple and waver as if viewed through a hazy atmosphere. Almost at once the white dwarf began falling towards the depression Clearwater had created in spacetime, like a marble rolling down a drain.

"Extrusion point projected with minimal power loss," said Tzu without looking up from his holo-panel. "Tidal stresses are well within shear tolerance."

Clearwater rumbled, floor plates shaking like an old-fashioned subway car, as Clydesdale's gravity coaxed it into motion. Although the ship and crew had made this type of jump several times before, Kavet always got butterflies at this point. Of course, if any of the jumps Clearwater had made deserved a fluttery stomach, it was this one.

Where the previous time shifts had been to significant periods in Sol System's past, and those of only a few million years at most, this one would be Clearwater' greatest feat to date.

Its mission was two-fold. First, solve the Paradox of Youth at the center of the Milky Way. Second, and related to the first, find out what started the event dubbed Spinbirth by its discoverer, Ted Figgen, one hundred fourteen years ago in the year 2018.

Figgen, an astrophysicist, determined that the Milky Way had begun to flatten and become a spiral galaxy almost exactly 7.2 billion years before present day. This very precise calculation, though proven and refined by later astronomers, baffled scientists of every stripe.

Coupled with the Paradox of Youth -- the existence of many young stars at the Milky Way's center -- Spinbirth had become one of modern man's greatest mysteries, and one that had remained unsolvable until the creation of Clearwater. Now humanity would have its answers.

Kavet smiled at the thought. It reminded him of a poem by one of his favorite 21st century authors who had chided man for dreaming of traveling time since he was already a time traveler, moving from moment to moment into infinity.

"Insertion," said Tzu.

Clydesdale proceeded out of the rip in spacetime like a fiery pinball, Clearwater coasting in its wake.

"Let's have a look," said Kavet.

The bridge environment disappeared, replaced by a 360 degree view of the star field.

"What the hell?" said Kavet.

Stars crowded every part of visible space about Clearwater, flooding the ship's polarized screens with light.

Alarms began to wail.

"Radiation warning," said Clearwater's AI in a cool, male voice.

The deck shook violently. Stocking did something at his post and it lessened, though the hull still trembled.

"Clydesdale has fallen into the gravity well of a red giant about 3 AU from our current position," said Tzu.

"Collision course?" asked Kavet. His heart was racing, but he couldn't let it show. No need to worry the junior crewmembers.

"No," said Tzu. "It's safe, but I don't like our chances surviving that much heat and radiation. I suggest we unhitch now and move out into deeper waters."

"Do it."

Clearwater veered away from its engine star and the deck ceased its tremors. After a few seconds the warbling alarm stopped and the AI sounded an all clear.

Kavet stared at the star field, dotted with white, yellow, and red suns.

"Are we in the right when?" he asked.

"Yes," said Tzu. "And the right place. We're about a thousand light years from galactic center. You can see it there." He pointed at a bright halo of light circling a black sphere.

"What's with all this then? I don't see enough --" Kavet froze. "Tzu, did I just see a star appear?"

"I saw that too," said Stocking.

"And another," said Tzu.

"Dr. Kavet," said Stocking, his voice awed, "we're detecting a massive number of vessels in the area.

"How many is massive?"

Stocking paused, staring at his instruments as if he could change them by dint of will. When they didn't, he said, "Hundreds of millions, sir."

"What?"

"He is correct," said Tzu, a bit of Japanese accent creeping into his voice. "I'm detecting roughly the same number of stars."

Kavet felt sweat bead his forehead.

"Tzu, any chance we can catch Clydesdale and go home?"

Tzu shook his head. "We need flat space for that -- no intervening gravity wells."

Kavet scanned the star field. The place was lousy with stars.

"What the hell is happening here?" he asked.

Tzu left his science station to walk across the bridge, his eyes fixed on Sagittarius A, the super massive black hole at galactic center.

Kavet knew the man too well not to recognize a sudden insight. He waited while his science officer studied the heart of their galaxy.

"Spinbirth," breathed Tzu. "We cause it -- are causing it."

"We who?"

"We, as in every sentient civilization in the galaxy that manages to create time travel. We all come here to see what happened. We come here and we cause it by emptying the galaxy's outer shell, moving all these stars to the center, not only creating the spin, but simultaneously setting up the Paradox of Youth."

Several more stars, one a main sequence like Sol, popped into existence in the field.

"How do we get back to our future?" asked Kavet, fearing the answer.

Tzu turned to face the director, silent for a moment.

"One second at a time."


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Post January 30, 2010, 11:34:36 AM

Trying Time Travelers Challenge

Ever-Changing

By:
Sergio Palumbo



“In 1914 the Archduke of Austria and his wife, while on their Gräf & Stift tourer, were attacked by a group of assassins, among whom there was also Princip, a member of Young Bosnia. A grenade was thrown at their car, but the Archduke deflected the bomb and some conspirators were detained, but Princip evaded their search…”

His Superior’s voice resonated inside the examination room. Frank sat at the desk,listening in silence to that report, while the tester kept telling the facts occurred in Sarajevo just before World War I.

The Archduke survived the assault, but the same day his wife decided to visit the wounded at the local hospital. Anyway, General Potiorek ordered the motorcade take an alternate route not to enter the city centre, but Leopold, their driver, took a wrong turn onto a side street. When the General remonstrated with Leopold, the tourer began backing up, but, cause of weird circumstances, Princip, who was still on the run, spotted them nearby. He approached their car at once and fired his gun against the Archduke and his wife, too.Both of them died…”

Frank’s blue eyes stared at his Superior’s face: fifty- one but looking almost ten years younger, the sides of his grey hair kept short, six feet tall( one foot taller than him) with a big nose, the middle- aged tester wore a brown suit. He had the same look you could have got a glimpse of in a fellow servant garbed in a livery from another time…

-What did you gather from this case study?- his Superior asked the student, good looking features and a typical crew cut.
-The Society for the Right Time Course intervened there…-Frank answered.
-Correct! Our sworn enemies tried to save the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, just to make the premises for the beginning of WWI never come true…-
-Yes- the fair-haired boy nodded. He knew the real examination was still to begin for him…
-Now, just to make me understand you are ready for the work laying ahead of you, show me your deductive reasoning…-
-Of course…-that was the moment his three-year training period at the School for the Right Time Course had been instructing Frank for-I say that things were arranged so that the assassin and the Archduke had to run into each other again in that precise point, after the first failed attempt at assassination…and our connection on-site, that day, was the driver who kept history back on tracks on behalf of the Society, as the unfortunate turn the car made is an ascertained historical fact…-
-Yes, good… really a perfect choice for any time agent there…-
-Definitely. Moreover, the name of that driver was Leopold and Leopold was you!-
The Superior smiled -Not exactly, my young boy…actually I acted as the “controller” of the driver’s mind at the right time, but Leopold never knew or reembered what he did…Anyway, well done! You noticed the driver was the only matter to focus upon!-
-I made it thanks to your teachings…-Frank acknowledged, relieved for his exploit.
-Undoubtedly, you proved the money our Society spent in your training produced the expected results…now you are ready to be part of one team of ours, travelling back in time to put things in order where our adversaries tried to change past history, modifying the events for a different reality more favourable to fit their own purposes…in the field you just need to be adaptable, clever at spotting an enemy time agent( and there are usually many of them in the surroundings at the same time…) playing as a villager or working under cover...I’ll help you wherever possible...in the following days we’ll deepen our inquiring into some unpredictable historical facts of the past where our Society intervened to put everything in the right place…For example, in 1098, when the besieging First Crusaders, after entering Muslim Antioch, were besieged by another massive Turkish army. When the few starving Christians went out of the town for a decisive battle, according to legend, an army of Angels came to their aid...Well, maybe we used some exaggerated special effects there…-the Superior smirked- Or we could examine two time missions especially suited to save Christianity and Islam, too. You know, two Great Khans of the Mongols curiously died during the Middle Ages, the first when Christianity -in Europe - was on the point of yielding to the advancing Mongols from the eastern steppes, and the second in 1260, when Islam was on the brink of complete defeat cause of the same warriors…In both cases the Mongol Generals had left with most of their troops to vote in a new Great Khan, so their remaining armies weren’t capable of keeping their new occupancies abroad…-
-Not to speak of the mysterious voice an ancient Roman heard in 390 B.C., warning him of the oncoming attack by the Gauls…- Frank added.
-…but Rome’s authorities did not believe him and so the Gauls entered the city easily…exactly!But now it’s late…see you in the common dining room at 8:00 PM to discuss this matter…-

When the Superior had left, the boy knew that- as a new “time agent”- finally he could have the chance to damage the Society’s instrumentations in that time as an under cover infiltrator from the distant future…

What could his Superior ever think of him if just he had known Frank came from another time, when the same Society had decided this historical period (and even that middle- aged man) had to be changed or wiped out whatever the cost?

It was a simple reversal in beliefs on time- policy, these were the orders!

One day, who knows, maybe, the same Society could decide to wipe out Frank himself, too, and that whole intrigue, according to some new political system…


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Post January 30, 2010, 11:36:13 AM

Trying Time Travelers Challenge

- Winner -


Case in Point

By:
Bill Wolfe



I’d been a cop for eleven years when the first time travelers started showing up. So I remember things like lotteries, casinos and numbers rackets. It was March, right after I got my gold shield, when some geek kid at M.I.T. ‘cracks’ the time barrier and starts all this. They can’t go back to any time before she does her little experiment, or we’d have been tripping over these bastards throughout all of recorded history.

My story is the same as most cops my age. Divorced, no kids, no close family, just The Job. These, and the fact that I was booked on a flight that crashed made me a perfect candidate for the Time Cops. One way or another, my old life was over, I was out of the timeline. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I ain’t bitchin’, though.

I’m still kickin’, I’m still on The Job, and the medical coverage in the 30th Century is outstanding. Only problem I have is the time travelers, themselves. I hate those guys. And now here I am one. Go figure.

The 21st Century is as primitive a time as crooks can get to, so they think the pickings are pretty easy. They keep tellin’ me that I can’t change history. I mean I really can’t. Nothin’ any time traveler does has any effect on the timeline. There’s a lot of fun to be had, if you have the right attitude. And hey, any time I screw-up, I can just go back and fix it. Problem is, so can the perp, or sometimes, his family.

Last Tuesday, for instance. I went back to my time—when I was still a real cop—to pick-up some 25th who got himself nabbed by the locals trying to steal a bunch of comic books. The collector lived in a trailer park and kept his stash under his bed. Don’t know how the perp found out about ‘em, but he decided to help himself to a few of the choice bits. He has to leave a few of the good ones, of course. If he stole ‘em all, he wouldn’t have been able to find out that the Collector used to keep these things under his bed. Get it?


The perp had all kinds of 25th—Century burglary gear, none of which impressed the neighbor’s Doberman. Guy’s lucky he still has a crotch.

So I show up at the Station with my ID out, and ready to lead the perp—and ALL his futuristic gear—off to his time to face charges. When I see myself, already leading him out. Only I’m bulked-up, I look like Schwarzenagger, all of a sudden.

“Oh Crap,” is all I got to say. The Sh@t is about to hit the fan.

Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it. “Schwarzenagger” equals body armor. A future me had come in twenty minutes early to start this little dance. In this job, I’ve run into myself way too many times to let it bother me.

I didn’t notice the lady across the street until she opened-up with the plasma pistol. By the 25th, those things are pretty small. I’ve shot ‘em, and they are mean, loud, and have a kick like a mule. I have to tell you she’s a better shot than I will ever be. I—body armor me—went down like I’d been forced to watch C-SPAN.

“Mom?” The perp yells. “No!” People are running and screaming in all directions, and the little stunner I carry is barely clear of the holster, when another future me in body armor steps out of the alley behind her and raises his. . .uh. . . my stunner and says something that I can’t hear. The perp, cuffs and all, is running across the street towards us. . . them and it’s clear he ain’t gonna make it. The UPS driver locked the brakes, but it wasn’t going to be enough.

Out of nowhere, an older version of the mom—prison tattoos and all—comes barreling-in like a linebacker and knocks the perp out of the way. The truck swats her like a fly. From the way she skitters down the pavement, it looks like she’s wearing some kind of kinetic shock memory fabric. It’s why there ain’t no bullets outside of museums, after the late 23rd. She’ll hurt, but she’ll live.

Just for safety, I stun the perp before he can stand up and then hear my own voice calling for help. Mom-one has him--me—pinned up against a wall and is punching him in the head. She is one tough broad, that one. She’s going at him like Muhammad Ali just heard somebody disrespect his hairdo. I try the stunner but she’s wearing something that disperses the field. I must forget that when I go back to take her after she shoots the other me with the plasma pistol.


Now I’m the one dodging traffic as I run across the road to pull my own ass out of the fire.

Before I get there, another—much older—version of the son runs up and tackles her.

‘Ma, you’re just making it worse,” I hear him say as I run up and stun them both with close range head shots.

By now, the local cops are piling out of the building. Don’t forget, this whole mess happened right in front of a police station. Only they got real guns drawn.

I show my ID and have them start lining up the bodies on the sidewalk.

Perp one and mom one go with me. Perp two and mom two haven’t committed any crimes that I know of, so I’ll let body armor me—the one without the bloody face—deal with them.

I look at bloody face me and he just grins like an idiot. Good thing they can fix teeth in the 30th.

Neither one of us is gonna want to write this FUBAR up.


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Post March 06, 2010, 09:00:16 PM

Mare Inebrium Challenge

The challenge was to retell the example story from the point of view of one of the other inhabitants of the bar:


Example:

Many Happy Returns
A Tale of the Mare Inebrium


By:
Dan L. Hollifield



"Congratulations, Max," said the Reever as he raised a tankard of ale. "Happy anniversary!"

"Thank you," Max replied as I took a seat at the bar. He saw me and smiled.

"Andrew Huntington-Smith," he said. "It's been a while since you were last here. You're looking well, old man. Here, have one on the house. We're celebrating tonight."

"What's the occasion?" I asked as I accepted the frosty mug from Max's hand. A thin stream of cool fog seeped over the rim of the container, puddled momentarily on the bar, then ran off the edge to waft across the floor. The fog swirled playfully around Trixie's feet as she walked up, set her tray down, and leaned over to prop her elbows on the bar top. Resting her chin on her hands, she gazed lovingly at Max, who grinned and reached over to brush a stray wisp of hair from her forehead. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a humanoid customer trip over his own feet, nearly falling as he took in the sight of Trixie's long legs and short skirt. A skirt that was rising a bit higher than normal, I saw.

"It's Max's anniversary," she said. "He was hired here exactly a century ago, today." She stood up and stretched like a cat, then picked up her tray. "I've been here thirteen years, myself. Be right back, I need to go see what that Lashensin couple at table four want. The indicator light for their table is on, I can see it in the mirror." She walked away, tray under one arm as she tugged the back of her skirt down with her free hand.

"Well," I said, turning back to face Max. "Congratulations." The Reever and I both hoisted our drinks at the same time, drained them, and set the mugs down. The ice-cold tartness of the drink turned to a rush of warmth inside me. Max stepped over to my right to take an order from a heavy-set blue-skinned alien in a silver coverall who had just slid onto a bar stool three seats over. I think he was a Tescardi, but there are many species who look like that.

I heard a single, quiet, bell-like chime. "Excuse me," said the Reever, raising one hand to his ear. "I'm getting a call." I could see his lips move, but some sort of hush field prevented his words from reaching me. I looked away, to give him more privacy. Glancing out across the room I could tell the bar was doing good business today. Well over half the tables and booths were full. Solitary customers were scattered down the many stools along the bar. It looked to be a quiet evening for Max's anniversary. In the distance off to my left, I could see Larrye working in one of the side rooms, through its open doorway. Blanche was making her rounds from table to table near the front entrance, and Trixie was still at table four, demonstrating the menu computer to the alien couple seated there. The crowd in the bar was about equally split between humanoids and more otherworldly species. The subdued babble of voices in dozens of conversations murmured in my ears. Absentmindedly rubbing my fingertip across the polished wood of the bar, I took a deep breath, then sighed contentedly. The familiar lemon and Jasmine scent of the Mare Inebrium tickled my nose as I relaxed even more. There was always something about the Mare, something that felt almost like coming home. The Reever concluded his call with a satisfied nod, took his hand away from his ear, and smiled at me. "Sorry about that," he said. "But business follows me everywhere. At least it was good news this time. One of my Peacekeepers located a witness we need for a case that is coming to trial next week. Their testimony will allow me to put a minor con-man behind bars."

"I'm glad it was good news," I said. "I'll bet you don't get enough of that in your job."

"Absolutely right," he replied. "A policeman's life is thinly sprinkled with the spices of joy. Protecting people from predators is one of the better rewards I get. Speaking of rewards, excuse me again!" He got up, took three quick, long strides, and wrapped his left hand around the upper arm of a tall, green-scaled patron that had just walked past us.

"This must be my lucky day," said the Reever. "Kakartouload, isn't it? You Ibeesan smugglers must think I can't get DNA traces off a gemstone. You're under arrest. Come quietly and no one will get hurt." The Ibeesan native looked startled for the barest instant, then slumped into a resigned acceptance of its fate as the Reever clicked a restraining cuff onto its wrist.

"You win," it said. "Please, no hurt I. Should have known better than to celebrate a sale in this place. Same sentence as last time, maybe? Cell was comfortable, thought I. Clean, too."

"Yes," said the Reever. "That sounds about right. Ninety days in my jail, then I'll put you on a ship going off-world. If you come back in less than- oh say, five years this time -I'll ship you off to your home world. I know they'll be less than gentle with you."

"Not be coming back for ten years! Ibeesa Lawmen too hot for me! Chop my head off! You good Lawman, not chop. Will miss jousting with you. You play fair."

"I see you found a friend," said Max as the Reever led his prisoner back to the bar. "Shall I send for an officer to take him in?"

"Yes," said the Reever. "But give Kakartouload a drink first. He's not a bad sort, just greedy."

"Well, he's not going anywhere with that cuff on his arm," said Max. "I've got a bottle of Denkomet here somewhere... "

"Denkomet! Not afford that," said the prisoner.

"My treat," said Max, smiling. "Happy Anniversary!”


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Post March 06, 2010, 09:00:58 PM

Mare Inebrium Challenge

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to my Second Grubling’s Bar Mitzva

By:
Bill Wolfe



Go ahead, already. Your drink you should finish. We’re on an expense account, after all. Perhaps a small nosh, to hold us until dinner? Okay, as you wish.

Don’t let the large proboscis and swarthy integument fool you. Many who look like me have a reputation for business matters. But what am I, a meshugener, that I take no time for pleasure, and the getting-to-know of my newest pilot?

The green scales, I admit, are a sign of youth. But I’d be mishegas not to offer you all that the client is willing to pay for.

No? What are you, a shlemiel?

Once even, on the expense of my client, of course, I bought the Creator of Bethdish two bottles of Krupnik. Yes?. . .No. . .not the Planetary Administrator, the Creator! A small party in his particular dimensional plane, Casa Vila. I’ve found that alcohol makes business, and everything else, go more smoothly. Especially when I’m on someone else’s shekel.

I’m so very happy that your species does not find alcohol toxic. Bad for business to kill a customer or partner, don’t you think?

Agreed? Yes. Good.

Well, at the risk of getting a little schmaltzy, I should tell you of the last time I was here. Yes, of course, have another, by all means.

What? From where comes this kvetsh?

Why would I try to get you farshnoshket, when you’re already sending my poor children to the orphanage with your astute bargaining? The little things are crying in the night for the food you are taking from their gastronimetrical orifices.

Yes, of course. But this girth is needed for making me look more successful, more formidable to the less-aware. It is not meant to fool one such as yourself. No, my good friend, I am at your mercy in this transaction. I’m sure that once you agree to the price we discussed, one of my children will surely starve. Your spiel, when we spoke last, was very good. Tonight is merely to formalize our transaction.

Would I lie?

It is good, isn’t it? You’ll never be served anything schlocky at The Mare.

Why, of course! All you want.

Tell me when, and I’ll signal Blanche.

Ah, for a shikse, she’s really something, isn’t she?

Let’s schmooze, while we wait. Shall we?

A few nights ago, I am sitting on my tuches in here, minding my own business and discussing certain customs irregularities with another client, when who should come in, but the Reever?

Him? Ah, a true mentsh, but still the highest law officer in Bethdish. You should know this man already, no?

This tells me much about you, friend. A man who does not fear the law is either yiddisher kop, or perhaps a bit of a schlimazel.. You are the former, of course. I notice that your record is clean in this part of the galaxy, by the way.

Nothing recent, of course? Nothing? Good.

In any case, It was here that the Reever detained my previous pilot, for a minor docking infraction, I’m sure. He was an Ibeesan named Kakartuouload. Ahh. . .you’ve heard of him, I see. Good.

He was on his way to meet me and my contact about shipping the. . .baubles. . .we discussed off of Bethdish without. . .how should I say this?. . .without undue attention from the authorities.

Kakartuouload didn’t seem to mind that he was picked-up here. Had he been charged on his home planet, they would have chopped his head off. I hear it takes weeks for an Ibeesan to grow it back.

It was simply ill fortune that we scheduled our meeting for the one hundredth anniversary of Max’s tenure as bartender here at the Mare. Max and the Reever go a long way back, more than a million years, if the stories are true.

Yes, I said a million. Million. Yes.

Of course they’re both Immortals. You knew? Not? Interesting.

Your glass is empty? How embarrassing, as I am your host. I’ll signal Blanche for a refill, immediately. I’ll tell you, if I were a thousand years younger, or if the Harem were a little less vigilant. . .

Who? Trixie? Yes, of course. But such a tiny thing. Nothing to sink your grappling tentacles. . .ah well. . .a gentleslug does not discuss such matters.

“To each, his own.” I’ve heard some say.

That one, that Trixie was here when poor Kakartuouload was detained. Now, I don’t know much about her species, but from the way she was looking at Max, I am surprised he is working now, behind the bar. I swear, from her body language and the hungry look on her face, that night, I wouldn’t have been surprised that she would have made a meal of him. Such appetite, I saw.

Oy vey iz mir, had she had her way with poor Max. Who else would mix such a perfect Alter Kaker? The prune juice alone, he must pay handsomely to have smuggled-in from wherever those luscious tidbits are grown. Perhaps she is on a diet, and so he still lives. It would explain both her small size and how Max survived the evening.

Ahh, the lovely Blanche brings us a reprieve from a slow, parched death in the barren desert.

You flatter me, mistress. What they say is true. A direct relationship, since you were kind enough to ask. Yes, it’s quite proportional, and also prehensile, as well.

Come friend, let us toast to such a divine creature. Just watching how she walks away, I could plotz!

And now to our business arrangements, we are in agreement, yes?

And finally, let us toast to The Mare Inebrium, may its taps and the stories to be told here, never run dry!

Mazel Tov!


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Post March 06, 2010, 09:02:18 PM

Mare Inebrium Challenge

To Boldly Wait

By:
J. Davidson Hero



"So, what’re you fellahs having?" I asked assuming a place at the table. The stocky one seemed a little irritated with my intrusion at first. His large buddy, not really having much of a face to emote with, fluted a series of reedy staccatos. K80, my robot dog, obediently chose a spot a few feet from the floating table where she could keep an eye on the situation.

"Errr… ale for me. Stygian firewater in a pan for him," the short one barked at last through his translator. "He has a case of Muphridian mealybugs and he needs to soak his roots." I waved down our waitress, Blanche, and ordered my new ‘friends’ their drinks as well as a Rusty Nail for myself.

"Anything for Katie?" she asked with a rosy-cheeked smile.

"No, she’s fine," I said winking. The red light on K80’s scancorder module blinked on as if in agreement. Blanche walked off toward the bar where Max was talking with the Reever. I watched as Max’s girlfriend, Trixie, leaned against the bar. Oh man! What a pair of legs. K80 chirped with annoyance to break my trance. I heaved out a heavy sigh to end my futile pining and tried to get my mind back on the business at hand.

"So where do you two hail from?" I asked.

The stocky one was humanoid, but shorter than my own species and heavier-set. He had blue tattoos all over the pink skin of his piggish face and was originally from one of the Hemalian moons where they obviously didn’t believe in dentistry because his teeth were crooked and his breath smelled like Limburger. He wore a dingy white pressure suit bearing the markings of a free trader; his type was all too common in this sector of space.

His partner’s species, however, was completely unfamiliar to me. He was very large, maybe eight feet tall, five wide at the shoulders. He was also wearing a pressure suit with only his head exposed which resembled a brownish-gray, up-rooted tree stump. As I said, he had no face, but where a mouth and nose would have been were a number of small holes with shoots resembling bamboo growing out of them. This was where the music seemed to come from. On his forehead there was a depression with a thick clump of leaves and about a dozen stems, each with a closed flower blossom on top.

By the time Blanche returned with our drinks I was already taking copious notes. I had learned that they were working a job that brought them close enough to Bethdish to warrant a stop at the galaxy-famous Mare Inebrium. The Hemalian, who was named Grok, explained that his partner, Whooth, was actually a plant-based life form from a planet circling distant Tarazed and uncommon even there, as far as he knew. They had struck up a partnership when Grok lost his Hemalian crew in a bad situation and Whooth came to his rescue. Grok realized that not only could the Tarazedian’s strength replace his missing crew, but he would do wonders for the shipboard atmosphere. "He breathes out what I breathe in," Grok explained, "and he smells nice."

"He certainly does," said Blanche carefully setting the pan of firewater on the floor. Whooth was already removing his boots and set what passed for feet, but resembled two masses of tangled roots, into the fuming pan. He doodled a happy tune that made him sound like a clarinet.

Grok accepted his drink from Blanche, and leaning forward grunted, "You like the smell? A special thank you for you then. Go ahead… run your fingers through the flowers on his head."

Blanche looked at me. I nodded, but secretly tapped a key on my wrist remote that unlocked K80’s stunner and activated her defense protocol. Blanche reached up and ran her fingers through the small stalks on Whooth’s forehead. Slowly the flowers started to open up. They were beautiful dark purple flowers, each with five velvety petals and a bright center of tiny yellow hairs. The sweet perfume that had previously mingled subtly with the bar’s normal lemon and jasmine aroma now intensified and started to fill the air all about the table with a penetrating thickness. It reminded me of lilac and vanilla. Blanche leaned forward and inhaled deeply; she suddenly had a drugged look on her face. "So sweet," she said. The Tarazedian began to trill like a piccolo. Then he added the dark baritone hum of a bassoon: thum, thum, thum. Realizing then what was going on, I reached over and grabbed Blanche’s shoulder and pulled her back forcefully, just as a cloud of pollen puffed into the air.

The Hemalian snorted into his ale, then nearly fell off his chair howling. Whooth chucked away in short low notes that could only be interpreted as laughter. Blanche looked displeased but then rolled her eyes with a smirk and walked away.

It was then that we noticed the small commotion at the bar. The Reever was apprehending a green-scaled Ibeesan. Something about the lawman spooked my ‘friends’ and they decided it was time to leave; free traders are a skittish lot. I checked with K80. We’d gotten enough to get paid. A level 2 scan of a newly discovered species and a detailed report on its reproductive habits would keep my salary coming from Earth for a few more months which made life comfortable for a man and his dog in City of Lights.

"Aren’t you supposed to be out in some undiscovered country looking for new life forms and new cultures?" Blanche asked when I handed her some credits for her trouble.

"Do you know how far out I’d have to go these days to find a new species? That’s dangerous work," I said with a smile. "Besides, why should I go looking for them, when all the ones I’d want to meet will eventually pass through the Mare Inebrium?"


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Post March 06, 2010, 09:03:24 PM

Mare Inebrium Challenge

- Winner -


Cold Call

By:
Lester Curtis



The boss was out to destroy me.

"Grommiff," he said, "We need to expand our market area. Are your travel papers in order?"

"Yeah . . . uh, where am I going?"

"Bethdish."

"Bethdish??! But that's -- "

"That's what, Grommiff?"

"That's way outside our territory . . . "

"Yes," he grinned malevolently, "that's what 'expanding our market area' means. Now, get moving; your ship leaves in two hours."

I sighed and headed for the door.

When I got to Bethdish, I had to wait for my sample case, which had gotten lost in Customs. When I opened it and looked inside, I almost fell down. Someone had cleaned out all the top-shelf stuff; the premium liqueurs and wines were all gone. How was I supposed to make a sale without samples?

I filed a loss claim, got to my room, and flopped on the bed and fell asleep.

When I awoke, I had no idea what local time it was, and was shocked when I found it to be late afternoon already. I thought I might as well waste my time somewhere other than in my room. I took my sample case, hailed a cab, and told the driver, "Take me to the bar."

"Which one?"

"The bar. The bar, the one everybody talks about."

"Ah, gotcha. That'd be the Mare Inebrium. Interesting place. There's a convention coming up there soon."

"A convention? In a bar?"

"You'll understand when you see the place; it's pretty big." I sunk back in silence for the rest of the ride.

He stopped in front of an enormous skyscraper, certainly big enough to host a convention. I went inside.

The place didn't smell like a bar; the air had a faint tangy sweetness to it. There were quite a few species there, but the atmosphere was peaceable.

I found a booth that gave me a view of most of the floor and the main bar, and one of the waitresses came over. She was short and full-figured, with curly dark hair and a playful smile.

"What can I get you, hon?"

"Umm . . . do you have a menu of all the drinks you serve?"

She tapped a panel in the tabletop, "Right here." She showed me how to work the device, and said, "If you want something that isn't on there, gimme a holler; my name's Blanche." I started searching, and my mood went down pretty quickly; they already had almost everything we carried, and they weren't about to pay the extra shipping to get it from us. I ordered something called a "WMD" and sipped at it while I looked around.

The other waitress had been at the bar, interacting in a friendly way with the bartender, but she then went to tend to a couple of Lashensin at a table. Two other men were talking with the bartender. One of them I took to be a soldier or policeman; he wore a blue and black uniform and had a big sword across his back. As I watched, he reached out and grabbed a green-skinned alien who had just walked past, and escorted him to the bar.

Bored and curious, I picked up my drink and walked over to the bar, just as the cute waitress was coming back with two unfinished drinks and a flustered expression. The bartender said, "What's the matter, Trixie?"

"It's the Lashensin, Max, they ordered this Fahshuhshu through the teleserver, but they don't like it. Can you make a better one?"

Max shook his head. "I tried that before; I haven't got the biochemistry to do any better than the machine, and I don't have another source for the stuff. Credit them for it, and offer whatever they want, on the house."

Trixie headed back, and Max turned to the uniformed man. "I've got to try to keep them happy; they're having that big convention here in a couple days -- seventeen thousand guests, last count."

"I'm well aware; we're having to arrange extra security here and at the spaceport, not to mention traffic control. It'll be a busy week."

Trixie was back. "They're so upset, they've been looking all over for this stuff and can't find any they like . . . "

"Perhaps I can help . . . " I said. Everyone looked at me. "Oh . . . uh, here." I handed Max my business card.

"You sell beverages . . . "

"Only the very finest -- including Fahshuhshu -- oh! Excuse me a moment." I hustled back to my booth and opened the sample case, and on the bottom tier, there they were, two single-serving samples. I'd quite forgotten them, since no one ever orders it. I took them back to the bar. "Max, let me have two clean glasses, please."

Max put the glasses on the bar while I gave the bottles a violent shake. "You have to get the mud off the bottom," I explained, then poured the drinks. "There, try that."

Trixie looked at Max, who shrugged and nodded. She took the drinks to the Lashensin and waited. The Lashensin looked. They pointed. They sniffed, and tentatively sipped, then finished the drinks and started talking excitedly to Trixie.

As we watched their reaction, I said, "Fahshuhshu is a part of Lashensin culture. Each of those guests will want -- at least three of those per day, maybe as many as six." I caught Max's eye. "You can sell it for, maybe, ten credits a serving, and I can get it to you for -- two, plus shipping."

Max stuck his hand out and we shook. "Mr. Grommiff, you just made a sale." I knocked back the last of my drink, and within seconds, Max was placing two more in front of me.

"What's this?" I asked.

"On the house. One's for saving my cookies with the Lashensin, and the other is to celebrate my hundredth anniversary here."

"Well, then -- happy Anniversary!"


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Post March 07, 2010, 03:12:02 PM

Mare Inebrium Challenge

The following story was submitted for the challenge, but was misplaced by a software failure and unfortunately missed the deadline.


Midlife Crisis


By:
jaimie l. elliott



“Oh hell, here comes Charlie.”

A collective groan arose from the bugs as they huddled around a puddle of spilled Kaprakian ale. Suddenly, happy hour did not seem so happy, the chair they cowered under not so inviting.

“Now be nice boys,” admonished David in a hushed voice. “Charlie’s going through some rough times. Let’s try to humor him. Charlie!” he greeted loudly, his antennae twitching with false enthusiasm. “Nice for you to make it!”

“Bah,” said Charlie as he scuttled over next to them, just barely avoiding the heavy trod of some red-shirted crewman.

“Just an inch more,” mumbled Stewart but held his mandibles after a stern glance from David.

“Hey, guys,” said Jake, his own antennae quivering with excitement, “take a look at the cockroach over there. I think she’s wafting pheromones at me!” He waved a foreleg in greeting.

The cockroach turned her back on him.

“How’s life treating you, Charlie?” asked Toni.

“Oh, goddammit,” said Stewart as he shook his head. “Nice one Toni.”

“Stewart!” warned David.

“She’s got the prettiest carapace,” said Jake. “Grrrowllll!”

“Life sucks,” replied Charlie, ignoring Stewart and Jake and most of reality in general. “What am I, forty-five? Tomorrow I’ll be forty-six. And the day next I’ll be forty-seven. What have I done with my life so far?” He shook an angry appendage at them. “Nothing!”

“You’re still virile and as fit as a fiddle,” soothed David. “You have-- what? At least thirty more days to look forward to. You should go out and find a nice lady bug to fertilize eggs with.”

“I heard Lisa is available again,” said Stewart.

“Poor Andy,” said Toni. “She took him for all he was worth. It’s one thing to be dumped by your old lady. It’s a whole another level when she eats you.”

Charlie slapped the puddle of ale. “Is that all we’re good for? Scavenge and reproduce? So the next generation can scavenge and reproduce?” He motioned to the towering Reever at the other side of the bar. “I want to be like him! Someone who matters to the universe! Not some insignificant insect!”

“Oh, will you please shut up?” said Stewart. “You bitch more than a cicada with a hangnail.”

“Stewart!” shouted David. “Enough!”

“I hope Trixie doesn’t stomp on her,” said Jake. “That waitress is a notorious cockroach blocker.”

“I just want to make a difference for once in my life!” shouted Charlie. “Don’t you all understand?”

“Calm down,” said David.

“Yadda yadda yadda,” mumbled Stewart.

Charlie rushed out to the middle of the floor. He stood up on his hind legs and raged to the heavens. “I WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE! DO YOU HEAR ME? JUST ONCE IN MY LIFE!”

From the very heavens he raged, a green-scaled foot answered.

Squilch

“Ugh. Me just leaving too,” bemoaned the Ibeesan smuggler as he grabbed a nearby napkin to wipe the gooey residue off the bottom of his foot. Unable to completely remove the sticky mess, the creature sighed and made its way toward the restrooms instead of toward the exit. On the way, the Reever grabbed its arm.

The bugs watched the Ibeesan native being cuffed.

“Well, I’ll be a seven-legged beetle,” said Stewart. “I guess he was able to make a difference after all.” He raised his foreleg in a toast. “To Charlie!”

“To Charlie!” cheered the others.


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Post April 30, 2010, 10:49:45 PM

Altered History Challenge

The challenge was to tell a counterfactual or alternate history story featuring a famous historical figure that in real life died prior to 1910.


Example Story:



The General's Errand

By:
N.J. Kailhofer



The wagon clattered against the dirt road, jostling him and his uneager cargo. John pulled the pieces of his ill-fit, English clothes tighter around him to stave off the mid-November chill that sapped at his strength as much as his failure... a failure he would have to explain to the General himself. John searched his soul for some words to tell his commander that he had been worthy of his charge, and of the rank granted him in the army John forsook. John knew the General chose him on Major Lee's recommendation. The major said he had faith in John's ability.

John scoffed. My ability had nothing to do with it. All was decided by this damnable coat!

Ragged clouds of vapor blew before him in the moonlight, and his nose ran in the cold air. All around the smells of fires and the odors of poor soldiers long-confined to the encampment assaulted his senses. He knew these men, their hardships, and their loves. He knew their friendship, too, until he deserted them.

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Torches lit the night at the river's edge. "Here! The traitor is here!"

They found me again! Damn Middleton's men! They've spoiled it all!

John threw his coat and musket aside, and dove headlong into the water. Cold burned him from the length of his submerged body, and it was hard to keep afloat. The men in the longboat stroked hard against the swift current, and at the bow, a man held aloft a lantern, searching.

"Over here! For the love of the King, save me!"

Shot peppered the water around John as he reached the sailors. Strong hands pulled him into the boat as cannon from one of the galleys anchored there began to support them, firing at the Rebel force on the shore. A puggish fellow on the tiller growled at him. "Ye bring musket fire on us like rain. Why do ye bring us out into harm's way this night? Speak, damn ye!"

John swallowed his first answer. "I hear Sir Henry Clinton is in charge at New York. If your Captain will send me there, I shall prove to his lordship my desire to serve the King's army in the company of Loyalists such as myself."

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"Sir?" John called quietly. It took great effort to keep calm. This night had been over a month in the making.

The fellow stood upright in the dark of the garden. "Who's there?"

"Sergeant Champe, sir," he whispered. "On the road. Sorry, sir. Didn't want to wake everyone."

The Renegade's stride was cautious across the wet grass but quick to the fence. Quietly, he asked, "What is the meaning of this late-night intrusion?"

John saluted. "Begging your pardon, sir, but as I was patrolling down the road, I saw your fence here has been tampered with, no doubt for criminal purposes."

"What? Where?"

"Here, sir." John bent low and knocked a paling from its mount with a touch. "And these others, too." He pulled six more pickets and laid them carefully in the grass. "I presume this would allow access to your garden, sir. And here, if you'll look close, there's something else."

John knelt. The Judas's face leaned in, only to see John's pistol before him and to hear the hammer cock. His visage filled with confusion, then his eyes locked with John's. John whispered, "You have no sword on you, so don't say a word, or you'll meet your life's end on this spot. You're to come with me. At the shore at the end of the road is a boat to take us to the other side of the river. Come through the fence, and walk in front of me as an officer should. Make no calls or attempts to escape or it will be the last thing you'll ever do. I have both my pistol and my sword, and none in this army would be my equal with either. Move yourself!"

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

Firelight flickered against the General's tent as John waited. When the General did come out, his countenance was dark as the night and John feared to look at it. The General's voice, however, was steady as a rock. "Sergeant Major, does he not live?"

John swallowed. "Your pardon, sir. He does not."

The General stepped to the wagon and lifted the blanket. He gazed coldly at the remains by torchlight, and said, "I made plain my intent that he be alive, did I not? Yet here he lies without his mortal essence."

John's heart was in his throat. "I failed you, sir. It was my weakness to the elements that was responsible. My cloak was cast aside to join the boats at Bergen and evade the pursuit of Lieutenant Middleton. After I had the traitor, I could not stand against the autumn cold without the overcoat the British gave me." His voice faltered. "When we came upon the encampment, the sentry did not call out, but instead fired upon the color of the coats. I took cover, but bound, the prisoner was dead at the first shot."

A long sigh escaped General Washington's lips, but then he turned to his aide. "Inform all commands that the renegade is no more. Then give the sentry who fired the fatal shot double rations for the week. His ball saved me from hanging a man I once called friend." The General turned back to John. "I thank you for your commitment to this nation. I shall make sure all know it was Sergeant Major John Champe that brought an end to the traitor." With that, Washington saluted John and returned to his quarters.

John stood in the dark beside the body for a long time, pondering. For this, I became a deserter and a spy. I stole upon him like a thief and he died in my charge.

Slowly, he took the horse's lead and began the march to the graveyard to bury Benedict Arnold... with John's own honor alongside.


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_____
In the real Revolutionary War, Sergeant Major John Champe's kidnapping attempt failed because Benedict Arnold moved out of the cottage the very day Champe was to spring his plot. General Arnold successfully commanded some British forces against American positions, survived the war, and moved to Britain. Champe, his outfit dispatched to another location, had to serve under British command for several months before he could escape and report back to General Washington, who had himself planned the plot to capture Arnold. Most details from The pictorial field-book of the revolution; or, Illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the war for independence. Lossing, Benson John, 1813-1891, pages 206-210.

--Historical perspective provided for reference fun only.
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Post April 30, 2010, 10:51:14 PM

Altered History Challenge

Conspiracy

By:
Casey Callaghan



"Caesar is dead."

The rumour spread through Rome like fire.

"Caesar is dead."

Men discussed it in hushed tones, behind closed doors and only in the company of their closest and most trusted friends.

"Julius Caesar is dead! But how, who killed him, what happened?"

To that question, rumour had a thousand answers.

"He killed himself, ashamed of what he had become."

"Marcus Auriunus, head of his secret police, slipped a dagger between his ribs."

"He choked on a fish bone."

"The ghost of Brutus raised itself from its grave and visited him, killing him in the night."

"The gods themselves, angered at the dissolution of the Senate, cursed him with death."

None of these were perfectly right, though some were close. I should know. I'm the one who slipped the poison into his goblet, and killed him.

It took a long, long time to set up. But it was necessary. After that dark night on the Ides of March, when the Senate turned their daggers upon the person of Caesar, and Brutus alone stood up in Caesar's defense and lost his life in the effort, Caesar fell ino the twin traps of fear and paranoia. He had not seen the plot that the senate was hatching, even when it was there; now he saw a hundred plots that were not there, and feared for his life in every moment of every day.

Within a month, that which the Senate had feared had come to pass; Caesar was a dictator, and the members of the Senate condemned to death. And within a year, the Senate's worst nightmares had been surpassed. A force of secret police, invented by Caesar to seek out any evidence of plots, had insinuated itself throughout Rome. Brother was turned against brother, and cousin against cousin, for none knew who might betray them to Caesar's men; the mere mention of a name in the right ear was enough to have that man sent to the Circus, and of late it was said that the winners of the Games were quietly executed as well. Fear laid its cold, dreaded hand upon the very heart of Rome, and the gods cursed the city.

Hunger there was, and famine; yet Caesar ate well. Drought, yet Caesar had plenty to drink. And thus it was that our small group was formed. It was obvious that the curse laid upon the city was the result of the heresy of the Caesar; to end the curse, therefore, the heresy must be ended.

It took three months for one of our number - myself - to be hired in a menial position in Caesar's kitchens. Four years, and three subtle murders of previous chefs, for me to rise to the position of Caesar's personal chef. And six months before I was left unobserved for the few seconds that it took to slip the contents of a small vial into Caesar's wine.

I make no apologies. I did what I did for Rome. But, as I look up from the sands of the arena at the Dictator's balcony, and as I see there, enthroned, Marcus Auriunus of the secret police, I ask myself... was it worth it?

Caesar has fallen, but will Auriunus continue Caesar's heresy? Will Rome rise once again to the greatness it once possessed?

I hear the lion roar, and I know this; that I will not live to see the answer to my question.


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Post April 30, 2010, 10:52:12 PM

Altered History Challenge

Deux Amis

By:
TaoPhoenix



London Daily Times - November 1, 1868
"Swinburne Lost At Sea"
by A. N. E. Moss, Correspondent

Last week London lost an exciting poetic voice at the premature age of 31 when poet Algernon Charles Swinburne drowned while swimming in his beloved Sea. Swinburne ravished the sensibilities and decorum of the Young Lads upon the publication of his volume Poems and Ballads. Many of his poems featured an affection for the Sea. However, the Sea is not to be trifled with, and when Swinburne met Nature in direct confrontation of Will, the old Mother grew scornful and dashed his hopes upon her rocks. In all fairness, there is a modicum of dignity in the manner of his demise, and so, Algernon will join the other leading poetic voices to have been silenced before his Time was Due.

-

Henri Rene Albert Guy de Maupassant folded the item forwarded to him by an acquaintance and sipped some of his foul black coffee.

"Merde. Swinburne and his Sea. It damned killed him. And I, and I, a weak man, was no match for the fate thrust upon me."

Henri had taken some leisure at a beach off the coast of Normandy, where he had chanced upon the gifted poet swimming. Unfortunately, a foul surge of water broke the poet's intended timing of breath, and he mistakenly breathed in a frightful portion of sea water. Henri swam out furiously to attempt to save the red haired muse, but it was not enough. He succeeded in dragging the lifeless body ashore, but no more. After some words with the authorities, he was allowed to leave and the press granted his desire to be left out of the news coverage.

A few years later, the Franco-Prussian war broke out, but Henri drew ill of disturbed humors, and was unable to serve. After some time recovering, he moved to Paris and found work as a clerk in the French Navy. One night he sat at his dining table in a foul mood.

"Something is wrong with me. Nature gave me too much talent to be content, but God gave me not the grace to ignore it," he muttered. To ease his mind, he went out upon the town.

Henri knew of, and knew with, the Ladies of Evening who offered solace for a night against the hard moonlight of France. His tastes ran to the Reubenesque - full figured, mature women, from whom he could symbolically fill the void of his soul without fear of taking the sustenance necessary for life. At the BoisVert House on Rue de la Machette, his favorite Lady was available. Her name was Boule de Suif, or "Butterball", and she did posses a dash of class above her station.

"The Contrast," he exclaimed, brightening a little, "Yes the Contrast! Of Station Fallen, yet mixed with the Grace that only God could bestow upon an Imperfect Fallen woman!" So excited was he, that he paid for two whole nights of service fee, yet only stayed for one. The following morning he set sail for the country which mixed hope upon the station fallen out of favor - America.

Henri became employed at the Ohio Penitentiary as a guard. He desired to study men who "were of Station Low, but possessed the buried spark of God". He eventually became friends with Prisoner 30664, a fellow by the name of Billy Porter.

"Billy, you are in here because you have reaped what you have sown, but you are too good for these walls! You must reform your ways!"

"Oh Henri, how can I do that? I cannot resist the lure of some good excitement!"

"You must! You must! Promise me you will contribute to society when you leave here!"

"Oh Henri, I promise, I promise!"

Billy Porter was true to his word. Adopting the pseudonym of Henri, he worked from within bands of criminal to effect important prison reforms. In the process, he saved many lives, and had no time to waste upon trifles such as words, when the souls of men were tossing in the waves of indecision between God and the Devil.

Henri's health suffered from eating the poor quality food of the institution, but he would not treat himself to anything better than his Penitent charges received. He died on October 25, 1908, with the Sea of Souls on his mind to the very last, 40 years after he first failed to save a soul from the Sea.


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Post April 30, 2010, 10:53:12 PM

Altered History Challenge

Contentment Revisited

By:
Michele Dutcher



Captain Fitzroy sat at the rectory table, leaning back in his chair a little. “That was indeed a fine meal, pastor,” he said, giving a nod to the preacher’s wife.

“It sounds as if meals onboard ship are a little less extravagant,” mused Josiah Wedgewood II.

“The meals on the open water may be less ample, but certainly more varied, especially those after rounding the tip of The Americas,” the Captain told the others at table.

“Now if you men are going to be talking about all that ship stuff, perhaps you should take your tea in the parlor” said the pastor’s wife, as though shooing the men from the table. “We women need to clear the table.” She stood up, and began picking up plates and saucers, the other wives following suit.

“An excellent idea, Miranda,” the pastor answered, giving his young bride a peck on the top of her head.

“I’ll have Mary bring it in directly, Charles” she told him, smiling, as the men left the room.

The coals in the parlor’s fireplace were a luminous red, and blazed up as the Man of the Cloth stoked the hearth.

“Are you enjoying married life then, Charles?” asked Mr. Wedgewood.

“I am very content,” he answered, taking a seat in a wing-chair beside his brother-in-law and the Captain. “Since I graduated Seminary six years ago, life has been a steady climb for me. Each day I’m here, I grow more and more confused about the wanderlust of my early years.”

“Really Charles? I never would have pictured you as an outdoorsman.”

Josiah looked at the pastor with concern as he picked up a china teacup off the silver platter before them.

“Early on, when I was perhaps 16 or 17, I thought about seeing the world, just out of curiosity, much as you have been able to do Captain.”

Captain FitzRoy rose and crossed the room to lean upon the mantle. He knew his friends were eager to hear more about his travels. “I did enjoy the Americas. One incident comes to mind which was a little humorous.”

“Do go on,” begged the pastor and his relative.

“Well now, it seems the Beagle had just docked in a bay at the southern tip of the Americas, when natives boarded the ship and stole a lifeboat, among other things.” Captain FitzRoy chuckled to himself. “We were beside ourselves, trying to discover what to do to get back our belongings.”

“I’m sure you didn’t want to start a war over a lifeboat,” piped in the pastor.

“Exactly right, my friend. So a plan was raised to take hostage four of the men responsible for the deed and bargain them back to their families, in exchange for the lifeboat and other sundries.”

Josiah Wedgewood thought it over for a moment. “Definitely a good move.”

“So we also thought. But when given the opportunity to choose between the men or the goods, the natives chose to keep the things they had stolen!”

“How absurd, Captain,” laughed Charles. “Imagine choosing the goods over their own flesh and blood.”

“We were surprised as well! After three days with them aboard our ship, we were wondering what to do with them, in the long run and all. I had even proposed we take them back with us to Great Britain, teach them the ways of God, and then bring them back to their families, as missionaries. It would have taken a second voyage, but it seemed we had no other options.”

“I do like that, of course,” echoed Pastor Charles. “They would have been excellent messengers of God to their heathen families. Is that what happened then?”

Captain Fitzroy laughed at the thought. “Of course not! You see me sitting here, don’t you?”

All three friends were now laughing at the question. “Well what did happen?” asked Josiah, finally.

“We just pulled up anchor on the fourth morning and left the men on the beach. Ultimately, we were content to leave the lifeboat as a gift from her Majesty the Queen. We swore to warn other ships heading that direction about the thieving tactics of the natives however.”

“I dare say, Captain. I dare say!”

The three men were silent a moment, gazing into the fading light of the fireplace. The pastor was the first to break the silence. “Will you be heading back to sea then – making a return to the Americas as it were?”

“I cannot picture that, Pastor Darwin. I fear I’m just as pleased to sit here fireside and drink tea from a china cup, as to be out there somewhere, thrown about upon the high seas.”

“And I’m content to putter about my gardens as well,” answered Charles Darwin, picking up a tea biscuit and dunking it into his cup.


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Post April 30, 2010, 10:54:05 PM

Altered History Challenge

The First Trifocals

By:
Sergio Palumbo



Although Benjamin West, an American artist, is known to have been an early wearer of 'divided glasses' or bifocals in our world, possibly before 1800, surely he didn’t use them before Mr. Benjamin Franklin, the credited inventor of such an useful discovery. Actually, some historical articles from Mr. George Whatley, am English philanthropist, and John Fenno, editor of The Gazette of the United States, well documented that Franklin surely invented bifocals… so, Benjamin West’s claims were not accepted. But the facts which occurred in the early 1760s in North America ( it could have been our own world or not… maybe a parallel dimension in a way) took World History in a completely new direction. And, in the end, Mr. West became well known as the “only” real inventor of them in the following years in that timeline…
Anyway, believe it or not, in 1762 things went this way…

One day, early in the morning, Mr. Franklin was in his lab, working on the new accomplishment of his, testing the wondrous properties of a new kind of spectacles he had invented. The first bifocals he had designed possessed the most convex lenses in the lower half of the frame and the least convex ones on the upper. To make them he had two separate lenses cut in half and combined together within the frame. As a result, the mounting of two half lenses into a single frame generated some complications, as such spectacles were too fragile as a matter of fact. So, in a way, this invention had to be perfected to make it really functional. Other than that, bifocals could cause at times slight headaches in some users... In an attempt to achieve something better, with the passing of time Mr. Franklin tried several shapes, sizes and new materials, too.

The present invention was a new sort of glasses with trifocal lenses. They were made in similar styles to byfocals but on the other hand there was an additional segment for intermediate vision above the reading section. He had put together many different substances to get the new segment and now he could say he was really satisfied about the way it functioned.

Anyway, even if he hadn’t yet found it out, in an unpredictable way, the upper part of the new lenses took a very amusing and incredible kind of shape and it was given a very peculiar feature which made that unique and unbelievable! The new glasses gave really a good vision, of course, but there was some unwelcome haze sideways he had not been able to fix yet. So he had made some adjustment and finally he was ready to try the new frame. He put his glasses on and began looking around the room which represented his lab at that time.And then it all happened!

The short figure- almost half the sine of a common person- just came out of the darkness all in a sudden. A moment before that was not there- Mr. Franklin was sure…- and now he could see it directly. How was it ever possible? How had he entered his lab without invitation? He didn’t hear anyone coming in…

-Who are you…?And what are you doing there?- he asked, finally-Who let you in…?Please introduce yourself at once…!-

The figure in the camouflage suit showed off in plain sight, looking as a sort of boy, but with big eyes, a grey skin and very long arms. He took a strange metallic device held at waist height and immediately pointed it to Mr. Franklin. The individual said only a few unearthly words” THTYDYDIRJRIFHK TKGHJHJ…THTFYTG THFY TKGHJHJ THTYDYDIRJRIFHK TKGHJHJ… ”(Translation from Grey Alien Species language, courtesy of the editor: “You discovered too much. You were not supposed to ever know I was here… so I’m sorry, but your invention must not be developed any further… otherwise, it would put at danger our mission of exploration and study of the human species on this planet, which is supposed to continue unseen and in disguise for a very long time…Sorry again about that!You were really looking to become a very promising guy in Mankind’s History…”

Then the strange figure activated the device and a blackish ray erupted from it. And soon after Mr Benjamin felt to the ground, dead. Cause of heart attack, at least according the official accounts, anyway.

And unfortunately that fact changed in an unpredictable way many and many things and important events in the years to come…


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Post April 30, 2010, 10:55:24 PM

Altered History Challenge

2nd Chance
Or
The Phoenix Rises


By:
Richard Tornello © 2010



I am Yusef Levi-Maduro a third and final year student at DARIUS , The Great Father of Xerxes, Persian War College. I along with various other students from all over the Persian world are picked because of a skill or skills recognized by the leaders of our various homes. Our dominion stretches from the Pillars of Hercules north to the Anglo-Germanic Federation, and east to the great Chinese Empires and includes the eastern and northern sections of the Indian Subcontinent.

Religion plays no part in our political life and successes. One’s mythological under- pinning is ones own business, as long as they don’t interfere with the state.

That’s an odd ancient Greek term, the state. I inculcated the Greek concept along with my studies. We are all one, under the great Persian leadership. Our vast territories are controlled by our civilian councils and military leaders. The leadership is drawn from the universities and the war colleges. Skill and intelligence are the hallmark of our elite.

DARIUS War College has the best reputation. It has the toughest curriculum. This is the path that will become available to me. Status and family are the reward for proper and brave behavior and, as just important, so is intelligent service.

For our final assignment in Speculative Studies we have been ordered to consider a possible alteration in history that may have had a major impact on our lives today. The object of this lesson is to think outside the sphere. The sphere is finite but unbounded. Since we will be out in the world, in unorthodox positions vis-à-vis our combat training, being able to evaluate the situation and develop new strategies, it is important to train our minds, to open them to even the improbable. This is an exercise.

Our History is glorious. I am including an introduction to Our History as an anchor to the speculation I will present in outline form. I will also include a brief statement regarding our current state of affairs. This will illustrate that I do know our history from which my speculative story will derive and divert.

In summary Under Darius and Xerxes, all we had intended and initiated, we accomplished to a degree unprecedented in history.

I have chosen to alter the final result of the combat with the Greeks. Our great leader Xerxes, offered to overlook their foolish quarreling political ways, and had given them the chance to be good subjects, in an ordered society. They refused rather being dead free men then live slaves. They instead offered resistance that was soon crushed, as was proclaimed by the oracles. We left their lands a burning cinder.

As history shows, the Greek city states failed to organize as was their habit. When they finally did mount a defense of their republic-states their efforts were at the most brave and the least foolish given the numbers of troops we had at our disposal.

The Spartan and Theban armies took a stand at a point in our army’s travel that could have held up our great War Machine. The location was called Hot Gates. We had those who showed us other ways around this minor obstruction. We surrounded them, initiated a siege, and starved them in place. Few if any soldiers were lost on this minor skirmish. After they perished our Army of millions moved throughout the Greek City-States freely. We conquered all of the Greek lands.

Themistoclis and the Athenian navy were decimated. Admiral Artemisia didn’t fall for their faints. Our navy boarded their ships taking great prizes and slaves and sinking the Athenian threat. By sea, the gods being in our favor, granted us fair winds and calm waters. We moved to Athens and burned the city to the ground, killed all remaining men, women, and children were sold into slavery. Greek women were going for a good price except for the Spartan women who like their men were ferocious fighters and free thinkers. They died by the sword every last one.

Xerxes’ was upset about the Spartans. He had great plans for them. They would have made the best shock troops in his great army. He considered them to be almost equal to the Immortals.

With that being accomplished, the rest of the Greek City-states sued for peace. And that is our history as it is regarding the Greek incidents.

****

I hereby submit my outline, for approval, to our great teacher, Commander Apranik. She will decide if it is worthy of our great military traditions. The outline is as follows:

The Greeks at Hot Gates arrived in time to establish themselves in good order. There were approximately 1000 elite soldiers. 300 to 400 being the Spartan expeditionary force sent to hold the massive Persian Army. The rest were made up from Thebes. It was a recognized suicide mission. Their success holding back the Persian army gave the city- states ample time to mobilize a defense. They mounted a counter offensive that was coupled with their naval actions.

The huge Athenian fleet, used tactics that were unexpected. In fact Xerxes had been lead to believe that they were ready to revolt. Instead the Athenians and allies managed to decimate the Persian navy. Supply lines were cut off and a destruction of the Persian Army appeared a possible outcome. Xerxes ordered retreat.

The Persian army retreated to reorganize. We never managed to mount an invasion of such size again. The Greek City states were left to their own evil depraved ideas and republican manners. Their philosophy regarding democracy, an evil concept that goes against the laws of nations, spread and infected the thinking of the known world. The end result being so chaotic and alien, I can’t even begin to imagine a world like that.

Submitted, with all due respect and adherence to the laws of our great Persian empire, I am Yusef Levi-Maduro, Sergeant Major, Persian Army Reserve.


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Post April 30, 2010, 10:57:44 PM

Altered History Challenge

Nusquam

By:
J. Davidson Hero



The author’s face was pale. He held a cloth to his mouth. …blood in sputum on white linen, drying and blackening…

…dying…


“I am dying,” he said, smiling.

“But do not pity me; it is a good death, the mal du siècle, a slow mortification that has given me time to reflect and to repent my life’s transgressions. It is the disease of an artist, but the death is that of…”

He coughed.

“…a man.”

“I will admit, as I have before, that the idea, the crucial concept of my book, The Omen from Under the Sea, was not, in fact, entirely…mine. ‘The Alligator’ was the name of the U.S. Navy’s first submarine. It was built in 1861 and served during the Civil War, though not particularly well, and was lost at sea in a storm.” …cut from its tether because of the weather…

“And that was the inspiration for the name of that fantastic invention, the main set piece of my novel, but still not the concept. My Alligator was electric, powered by sodium mercury batteries, a top speed of 50 knots, something unheard of even today. The truth is the idea for the voyage which the French professor and his companions take with my brooding Captain Nusquam aboard the Alligator was the dream of another man, a French stockbroker.” …M. Verne…

He coughed again.

“Unfortunately, I do not remember his name.”

“It was nine years ago, the Exposition Universelle of 1900, a sight to behold, for me at least, a young American correspondent.” He smiled. …women in paletots, beneath black parasols, prancing by… men in straw boaters, canes clicking on cobblestones…

“In the Palais de l’Optique near the Eiffel Tower was the Great Exposition Refractor, the largest refracting telescope ever constructed. That is where I found him.”

“He was well dressed, with kindly blue eyes and a silvery beard. He stood at some distance from the others, slightly leaning on his cane.” …lonely... “He had the air of an elder statesman, and I had, in fact, wrongly assumed he was a man of importance, perhaps overseeing the operation of the telescope. He was not; but he had taken it upon himself to study the telescope in detail, and as I approached, unbidden, he began to share what he had learned.”

“Twenty-four 1.5 meter diameter cylinders make up the 60 meter long steel tube, running north and south and raised in the air on seven columns of stone and steel,” the stockbroker said pointing down the length of the telescope with his cane. “Light is brought into the tube by way of a Foucault siderostat in a dome at the end. A pity it is all but useless.”

“He was referring to the fact that the telescope was little more than a show piece and not designed for scientific use.”

“Still, it is an interesting bit of construction, don’t you think?” the stockbroker asked.

“I couldn’t help but agree and the two of us struck up a lengthy discussion about astronomy. Before long we were discussing the other innovations that were being presented at the Exposition: Diesel’s engine, moving sidewalks and the wireless telegraph. In the end we got on so well, that we decided to investigate some of the other venues together.”

“As we walked he asked all about me.” …sad old man, no family, no son… “He was well read; we discussed the politics of the day and my life as a correspondent.”

“I have been a writer myself,” the stockbroker said. “I have even had a bit of success in the theatre here. But that was long ago, very long ago. I finished a novel once,” he admitted. “It was titled Cinq semaines en ballon; it was about a balloon voyage across Africa.”

“He explained in intricate detail the mechanism he had devised by which his characters would be able to control the balloon’s altitude without having to release any gas.”

“Unfortunately, I could not find a publisher and, eventually, frustrated, I tossed it in the fire,” the stockbroker said. Regret clouded his face.

“Then prompted by the stockbroker’s story, I mentioned my own plans to stay in Paris and become a novelist.” …hadn’t decided until then…

“I asked if he’d written anything else. He reflected for a moment.”

“It was at the 1867 Exposition that I first saw the Plongeur,” the stockbroker said. “She was the first submarine to be powered by mechanical means. French design, of course.” He chuckled. “For a long time I wondered about this, moving under the sea, moving through a moving element, so to speak. The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.”
…his words…
…his words…


The author folded the cloth and dabbed at the sweat on his forehead.

“And that is where the germ of the first of my extraordinary voyages originated from, the words of a stockbroker I met in the streets of Paris. It was a brilliant idea, his idea, but in the end, the words were mine.” He chuckled nervously and seemed to search for something to rest his eyes on.

…it was nearly finished… his manuscript… Captain Nemo… the Nautilus… take it, humor the old man, give him a professional opinion… it was all there… it was all his… every word.

The author coughed.

___________________________________________________________
Jules Verne could not find a publisher for his first novel Five Weeks in a Balloon. After numerous rejections, he tossed the manuscript in the fire. His wife, Honorine, pulled it from the flames and encouraged him to meet with Pierre-Jules Hetzel who went on to publish the book in 1863. Verne’s biographer I.O. Evans summed it up: “Had Verne been alone when he committed his manuscript to the flames, the whole course of the world’s literature, and indeed of the world’s history, would have been very different.”


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Post April 30, 2010, 11:00:31 PM

Altered History Challenge

- Winner -



Arty

By:
Bill Wolfe



“Thank you, your Honor. If I may continue? On the morning of April eleventh, at the hour of ten-and-a-quarter, I observed that the suspect had coal ash, the same as found at the murder scene, on his left shoe and a small smudge on the right shoulder of his waistcoat. I then followed him to the foundry, where I observed him removing a small bundle from his ditty, and attempting to throw it into the furnace. At this point, I apprehended him and charged him with the crime.”

“And how were you dressed, when you apprehended Alderman Peters, Detective?”

“Your Honor?”

“Were you, in fact, dressed as a common ragamuffin, and in shirtsleeves, no less, when you placed the honorable Alderman under arrest?”

“Why yes, your Honor, I was. In that part of town, my disguise allowed me to move about without drawing undue attention. The suspect turned on several occasions to see if he was being shadowed, and looked right past me, every time.”

“This is most improper behavior for a New York City Police Department Detective, I must say. Propriety, when dealing with an elected official of this great city, should be observed at all times. I assure you that Commissioner Roosevelt will hear of this outlandish breach of etiquette. Teddy and I will be dining together, this evening, as a matter of fact.”

“I understand, your Honor, but it was the only way to catch him before he destroyed the evidence.”

“I note a slight accent, Detective, were you born here, in this country?”

“Your Honor, with all due respect, I can’t see at all how my circumstances are relevant to this case.”

“Your ignorance is of no concern to me, Detective. You will answer the question, or be charged with contempt.”

“Your Honor, my parents moved me to this country in 1860, when I was one year of age, from Scotland. That was two years before The Plague became rampant, and all emigration from what used to be called the British Empire, was blocked. My mother was an avid reader of history, and suspected that the London and Paris outbreaks of 1858, would spread.”

“Quite right, Detective. Perhaps your foreign background will explain your unfamiliarity with our basic tenants. In this great Republic, a man has a right to destroy his own property—and the revolver you recovered is clearly Alderman Peters’ private property—at any time he chooses. The ownership of a weapon, by a responsible gentleman is a Constitutionally guaranteed, absolute Right.”

“That it is clearly the same caliber used to murder this poor woman, is irrelevant. There are thousands of these in the city, since The War. And yes, before you interrupt, I read your treatise on matching a bullet to a specific gun, but this nonsense of ‘ballistics’ is not an accepted, scientific technique, so I cannot take it into consideration. Because the Alderman was about to destroy the test bullet you fired, I will not charge you with theft for firing his revolver without his consent. That bullet was not yours to use, Detective, and you would be well advised to keep your pet theories out of your official investigations.”

“But the letters, your Honor. He was about to throw those into the furnace, as well.”

“Detective, I have already ruled that the correspondence between the good Alderman and this unfortunate woman are a private matter, and though they show a shameful lack of regard for public decency on the Alderman’s behalf, this Court does not engage in malicious scandalmongering. And furthermore, since the poor woman is not here to contradict the Alderman’s claim that she returned them to him, we simply must accept his account. You have no witnesses of any kind to suggest that merely because the door to her tenement flat was forced, means that the letters were—in fact—stolen and not returned to him prior to her demise, as he claims.”

“Your Honor, the cut on the suspect’s left hand is precisely the type of wound that whomever forced that door received. I found fresh blood and a small amount of flesh on the splintered shards of the door jamb.”

“Detective, I have a small cut on my thigh, am I to be charged next?”

“But, your Honor!”

“I have had enough of this insolence, Detective. Unless you have more compelling evidence than you have presented here, today, I will dismiss the charges against Alderman Peters, forthwith.”

“Nothing else, your Honor.”

“One more thing, Detective. You have made quite a name for yourself for your handling of the Vanderbilt diamond theft, and Mrs. Astor’s opinion of your talents is unshakable. But you mark my words, young fellow, no amount of social support will save you if you ever again try to bring charges against a gentleman of Alderman Peters’ standing with such shoddy, irrelevant or circumstantial evidence. Tammany Hall is a thing of the past, but there are still ways to deal with public servants who forget their station. Mayor Strong will not be in office, forever.”

“Detective Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, the Court thanks you for your testimony and your service to the great city of New York. You may step down.”


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Post April 30, 2010, 11:20:45 PM

Medieval Fantasy Mixup

This was a kind of "fill in the blanks" challenge, where entrants had to supply 4 story elements and then use them in a medieval fantasy piece. The first element had to be a person of action, the second a foe or undesirable character, the third a bystander character, and the final element had to be a treasure.



Example Story:



Beat the Drum

By:
N.J. Kailhofer



Elements: barbarian, goblin, musician, Drum of Doom


The echo of the Drum rumbled out from the sacred chamber, down over the mountain, and out to the valley floor below—where the teeming horde of goblins slept.

From their hiding spot in the rocks, Goran the barbarian saw Lex's disembodied hand twitching on the skin of the Drum. He whispered, "Odin's eye. His hand fell off again!"

Alton softly said, "It's not my fault he's falling apart. You killed him almost a week ago."

Goran grunted. "He kept squealing like a pig. I wanted to sleep."

Goran looked back over the edge of the rocks toward the Drum's chamber. Lex, as they named the goblin, stood over the Drum, staring up at where they hid in the rocks as if waiting for instructions. Lex's fallen hand twitched again and another supernatural rumble of thunder rolled out over the valley. "Do something about him."

Alton frowned, and then held his lyre close. Plucking a tune that he figured wouldn't carry as far as the valley below, he sang.

"From the Drum, the goblin man
Did remove his fallen hand.
Then he picked up the sacred treasure
And brought it out to our great pleasure."


"Odin's eye," Goran breathed. "That's awful."

Alton glared at him. "Do you think I have songs ready just in case the dead goblin we were using just happened to drop his own severed hand onto the top of the Drum of Doom in the middle of trying to steal it out of the sacred chamber that is instant death for anyone to enter?"

"Yes?" Goran asked.

"No!" Alton snapped. "I'm not some traveling minstrel, making up songs on the spot for crowds on the street. In the castle, the Duke likes practiced, well-known songs performed in the classical style. I'm doing the best I can. Look, it's set to music, so a dead goblin will do it."

Lex finally managed to pick up the Drum without his hand and began to lurch away from the far end of the sacred chamber.

Alton noted, "I think he's about to lose a foot, too."

The barbarian sneaked a glance over the rocks to the valley below and then asked, "How did you know a dead goblin would keep moving when you sang to it?"

"The Duke's wizard," Alton said, "drinks too much, and then likes to show off arcane things he knows. I had to sing for hours, keeping that poor, dead bastard dancing until the wizard finally fell to sleep and I could stop."

Alton paused. "Why do you ask?"

Goran grinned. "The others heard us. They're coming."

"Why are you smiling?!"

Goran's smile was now ear to ear. "There's about to be more dead goblins. You keep singing and our numbers will keep growing!"

The barbarian leapt over the edge and slid down the rough shale slope into a bowl-shaped depression just below the sacred chamber, but above the mouth of the valley. Already, the shrieking cries of the horde echoed around them.

"Odin's eye!" Goran swore. "Get down here and sing your heart out!"

Alton swallowed hard and jumped over the edge. He tumbled, sliding face-first to the bottom of the loose face of stone. Sprinting to hide behind the barbarian's back, his mind raced, trying to think of battle verses from the Duke's usual songs. The Song of Roland was no help. Count William's A Song of Nothing made men laugh. The Canticle of the Sun?

Goran swung his two-handed blade and a body fell at Alton's feet, blood still spilling from a wound in the goblin's neck.

Alton shouted, "I can't think of any battle songs!"

Goran laughed, slicing away. "It doesn't have to be good, remember? Just sing it, and they'll do it!"

Alton ducked away from a goblin knife and glanced up toward the valley. They were coming over the lip of the bowl in droves. Plucking hastily at his lyre, he sang,

Bravely the goblin fights
to defend our mortal rights
and protect the human men
from his former brothers.


Four dead bodies lurched up from the dust and ran back toward the approaching horde. Alton sang his improvised verse over and over as the melee spread into full pitched battle. He did his best to stay behind Goran and not be cleaved in two by the barbarian's wild chopping.

Something pressed into Alton's back and he dove, swinging his lyre. With a crashing sound, the body of the instrument struck the goblin, knocking its head to the ground. With a start, he realized the head was Lex's.

Alton's lyre fell to pieces.

The dead goblins stopped in place. The living horde paused for a few moments, too, as if wary, then began to move toward the humans again.

Alton grabbed the Drum of Doom from Lex's arms and pounded one of his hands on the top of the Drum.

A loud beat pounded from the drum, but it did not have the thunder sound like before, when Lex's hand had fallen on it. The goblins halted in place, as if afraid. He tried it again. Another loud beat drummed the air without supernatural force.

The living goblins seemed confused and looked back and forth at each other.

Alton thought like mad, then shouted, "I need a goblin's hand!"

Goran swung his sword, and tossed him a hand.

"Ew!"

Alton struck the Drum. A thunderclap shook the slopes around them, and all the goblins were laid flat upon the ground, dead.

"Odin's eye."

"I guess," Alton said, "it only works on goblins."

Goran grinned.

"What?"

"We can be goblin killers for hire. Your Duke will pay us mountains of gold to clean out his countryside with the Drum and make it safe for settlers. You'll never have to play for that wizard again."

Alton thought for a minute, then smiled back. "Fine, but we need to find a better way to play than with this hand."

Goran just laughed.


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Post April 30, 2010, 11:23:02 PM

Medieval Fantasy Mixup

A Prism Perilous

By:
J. Davidson Hero



Elements: a warrior, ascorpion-man, a traveling merchant, & the Prism of Photine

“By the blistering eye of Bel, how do you get yourself into such things?” Karsos asked himself. His wagon wheel struck a rock and he was nearly tossed from his seat. The oxen veered to the side and Karsos had to struggle to get them back into the center of the road, if one could call the rain-furrowed and rocky path up the side of the plateau a road. The climb was almost too steep for Phorcyphone’s stallion, let alone his heavy ox-drawn wagon. On the right, a rock wall rose imposing to the top of the plateau with overhanging boulders that threatened with their crushing weight; on the left was a sheer drop-off down into a bottomless nothing. He looked ahead to Phorcyphone steady on her horse’s back and knew the answer to his question. She was beautiful like a marble statue of a goddess he’d seen in a temple once. Soft smooth skin belied the hard trained muscles beneath. She was half a head taller than he was with long black hair, but her eyes were a cool calculating gray. And she was fierce and strong as a desert wind. She was an Amyntor, one of a race of warrior women and unconquerable. Karsos could dream though. However, lately he had begun to wonder if she was merely using him.

“You’re a fool.” The voice grated at Karsos like always. A maniacal chuckle followed. Karsos glanced over his shoulder into the darkness of the wagon.

“I wasn’t asking you,” he said glaring.

“You think she cares for you?” the voice continued. “She doesn’t. She cares only for her quest.”

“She may be using me, but at least I know she would never care for a vile monstrosity like you, Meherzad,” Karsos growled, puffing out his chest. White teeth pierced the darkness of the wagon, contorted into an angry mockery of a man’s smile. Meherzad was a monster, a man’s head and torso on the body of a giant scorpion, with pincers of black sclerite instead of hands. Karsos couldn’t see most of him, but he could hear the clatter and feel his weight shifting the wagon as he moved. A loud ‘thunk' cracked the wood near Karsos’ head. He flinched with a squeal. Turning he saw the scorpion-man’s sting buried in splintered wood inches from his head.

“She may care nothing for either of us,” Meherzad said,“but you should still be honored to follow her.”

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

An enormous gully split the top of the plateau and nestled in the bottom of this was the temple of Photine. The temple was long abandoned and the once sharp corners of its stone exterior were rounded by a thousand years of exposure to the sand-laced desert winds. Piles of bones covered the floor of the gully all around the temple at odd intervals. A few black feathered birds flew from openings that looked like empty eye sockets on the temple’s second floor, circling in the sky several times and eventually returning to their hidden nests. The three stood on the gully’s edge and planned their approach.

“He should join us. If he expects a share of the treasure, he should join us.”

“Meherzad,” Phorcyphone said, never taking her eyes from the temple. She inhaled deeply and the shiny breastplate that was sculpted to reflect her near-perfect female anatomy moved with her as she sighed. “That was not the plan. Karsos will remain here with the wagon. You and I will retrieve the Prism of Photine.”

Karsos retreated back to the side of his wagon dabbing sweat from his neck.

Meherzad shifted about on his eight legs. He seemed to be uncertain. She wasn’t listening. Finally he raised himself up, his tail arched high in the air above his head, as if poised to strike.

“Meherzad, this is my quest,” she said turning to him with a disarming stare. She seemed relaxed but her hand had moved to the hilt of her sword. “I was sent to retrieve the Prism. I need you to help me. You were a guardian of the sun goddess once. You know this temple and you are strong enough to carry the Prism out. Perhaps you think you are all I need, but I need Karsos too. If he goes with us now, he may die.”

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

They had been inside the temple half the day. Karsos had been waiting and when they emerged he watched, paralyzed with terror, as the events unfolded. All about the temple the piles of bones had started moving, pulling together into the ramshackle skeletons of their former owners. Most must have been human and they brandished old rusted swords, but a few were scorpion-men. Their tarnished exoskeletons rose up, shaking off a layer of sand, and testing pincers by snapping at the air.

Phorcyphone and Meherzad had burst through the entrance of the temple into the awakening throng of skeletal warriors. Phorcyphone went to meet the nearest, her sword flashing in the light of the late afternoon sun. Meherzad carried the massive crystal Prism on his back, but he limped awkwardly leaving a trail of black blood behind him. Karsos didn’t know how to help. He didn’t even have a sword.

Later as Karsos checked the oxen tack and rechecked the ropes that held the Prism in the wagon, he wondered if there was anything more they should do for Meherzad.

“This was the place he called home once,” he said sadly. “Maybe it’s fitting.” Phorcyphone sat at the fire, cradling her bandaged arm. It was the first time she had ever seemed vulnerable.

“He hated this place,” she said. “He didn’t want to return here. But he did… for me. How could I have…”

“He told me once it was an honor just to follow you,” Karsos said, awkwardly patting her shoulder.

She looked up at him, tears streaming down perfect alabaster cheeks. Her eyes were lost. And Karsos realized that the scorpion-man had not died in vain.


[align=center]The End[/align]
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