FLASH FICTION INDEX 2: Dec. 2011 - ?


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Post January 07, 2012, 06:04:06 PM

FLASH FICTION INDEX 2: Dec. 2011 - ?

(We reached the character limit in Index 1, and Index 2 was added.)

This thread holds a compendium of all entries to the monthly Flash Fiction Challenge from Dec. '11 onward.


Index II:



May '17: It's How You Play the Game Challenge

April '17: The Only Thing We Have to Fear

March '17: Never Apologize for Saying You're Sorry

February '17: Undying Love

January '17: Murder in Cranberry Bay

December '16: Elf Help

November '16: Happy Ending

October '16: Campfire Ghost Stories II

September '16: An Epistolary Tale

August '16: You've Got a Friend in Me

July '16: How Do I Love Thee?

June '16: I Feel Like A Monster

May '16: A Picture's Worth 1,000 Words

April '16: Museum Earth

March '16: Murder on the ISS (Let's Kill Wesley!)

January-February '16: It Just Keeps Getting Meta!

September-October '15: Rope a Dope Trope

July '15: 3 Random Things

May-June '15: I am Invincible: Redux

April '15: Change That Tune: 2010+ Music Version

March '15: Change That Tune: 1980's Pop Music Version

February '15: Still Among Us?

January '15: What Were?

December '14: Subordinate Clauses

November '14: Caught in a World So Cold Some Adult Language

October '14: Campfire Games Some Stories for Mature Audiences Only

Sept'14: I NOAH Guy

August'14: It Takes Two to Mango

July '14: Two Heads Laugh Better Than One

June '14: Scheherazade 7

May '14: I Am Invincible

April '14: Surviving the Ruined Earth

March '14: Modern Fantasy in Green

February '14: Welcome to Gondwanaland

January '14: Almost No Holds Barred

December '13: Christmas Cryptid

November '13: Person vs Person Fantasy

October '13: Inspired by the Gods

September '13: Sinister Book

August '13: Science Fiction Pirate

July '13: Twin Foil

May-June '13: I Wish I Could Have...

April '13: Huntsman's Family

March '13: Superhero Bob

February '13: Who Could Love a Monster

January '13: What If

December '12: Holiday Comedy

November '12: Guilty Monster

October '12: Meet Your Doom

September '12: Thinker's Fantasy

August '12: Buyer Beware

July '12: Something Under the Bed

June '12: Murder Most Fowl Comedy/Parody

May '12: Murder Most Foul

April '12: Seeking Redemption

March '12: Out of Time

February '12: A "Real" Valentine

January '12: Tales of the Sea

December '11: The Perfect Gift
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Post January 07, 2012, 06:04:58 PM

The Perfect Gift Challenge

The challenge was to write a tale of a lunar colonist trying to find the perfect, last-minute gift for their significant other.
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Post January 07, 2012, 06:07:32 PM

The Perfect Gift Challenge

What they left apart…

By:
Sergio Palumbo



The depot room gate opened wide and Brett entered.There was a lot of dust there inside and many abandoned excavation tools.

He walked along cautiously, there was no air in the room and his bulky work-spacesuit was not suited at all to move fast within such a small area, as it was meant to be used in the open on the Moon surface.

The old man proceeded without doubts to the shelf where he knew the thing he was looking for had remained for so long.His gloves took away the plastic bag upon it and reached that,putting the piece religiously inside the box placed next to him on the unwashed floor.

Then Brett left in a hurry, sure he had been unseen from anyone around.After all, that was a very old depot on the north side of Doosra Chand Shehr (Lunar City Two) no one did care of anymore, as the development area had moved up North- East long ago.

The black starry sky looked silent and dull as usual while he was coming back slowly to the Main Dome that formed part of the town where he lived.

As soon as he entered again the Great Gate, he found the roads and the passageways full of workers from Kazakhstan and some Chinese technicians who crowded the place, as usual.The NeoPakistani guards looked at everything around very attentively.Christmas 2202 was close at hand but nobody out there did care of that, actually.Work conditions and common life in Doosra Chand Shehr were really hard at this time, other than that Christmas holidays had been forbidden many years ago…

Fearing for their nasty look, Brett moved away immediately, reaching the big,poor shed that served as an accomodation for all the Western workers living under the dome.Once inside,nuzzled on his small bed, the colonist put the box on the blankets,opened it and delicately took out the very important contents.

As soon as the worker had known that his young son, fifteen years old and already used to the work-spacesuit he wore daily (while on the construction area north of Lunar City Two), was going to pay a visit, he had decided he had to give him a beautiful present this year.So he had chosen to take that piece of metal he had found by chance one month ago, while searching inside that depot for some useful tools in order to fix his corner cabinet.

At first Brett didn’t believe in what he saw, but then all the photos and the documents attached to it made him sure about it.“Jeez!” he had exclaimed when sure about that, in the end.

While staring at that metallic remains,scratching at his gray beard, a lot of things came to his mind…

In 2012 scientists had been warning that the sun's solar cycle could cause powerful storms,leaving many places on Earth without communication and electricity for months.Eventually it happened and the disfunctions lasted for some long years…
Powerful magnetic fields in the sun released immense amounts of energy into space, some of the particles coming from the explosion hit our planet at about a million miles an hour. Unfortunately, our world’s magnetic field, that had already started weakening over the course of the last centuries, had reduced the protection given to the surface so the side of the planet hit directly by such particles suffered enormous damages.All the wires did short out, energy facilities closed down, many industries ceased their activity and the military structures were deeply affected, too…As a result, at the beginning of the new day, the political balance of the world turned out to be unexpectedly subverted!All the countries on the other side of the planet, which had been fortunately preserved from the direct hit of the particles (thanks to Earth’s rotation),did take the opportunity to make the most out of their current military supremacy and showed off their strength in order to force the once-powerful-and-undefeated Western countries to surrender at once, under the threat of their (still) functioning weapons of mass destruction…The world’s overall situation changed completely.

New superpowers rose, such as NeoPakistan, endowed with nukes, which proved to be not pleasing, ready to rule over all the others…With the passing of years, they even reached the Moon thanks to the collection of so many riches and technologies taken worldwide in order to start their space program.And they stated they had been the first ones ever at achieving such an unprecedented result in Mankind’s history!They didn’t say the truth,certainly,but all the evidences, videos and photos from the past ( showing they had only gotten the second place in that space race…) had been destroyed according to the new authorities’ will and clear design of cultural primacy.

190 years had passed since then, only a few among the Westerners still remembered such sad events that the new official history had tried his best to wipe off the mind of everyone living on Earth or on the Moon colonies.

But they, the descendants of the elder North- American scientists, now full-time-workers for less than a bread’s slice per day, mantained a good memory of all that.

What better bequest for his son on the occasion of the (now forbidden) Christmas holidays? A remain of the Apollo Lunar Modules, also known as LEM , that those compelled space colonists coming from Central Asia did find on the ancient site of the first human landing on the Moon, keeping it hidden from the NeoPakistani authorities until today inside that disused depot.They had been moved elsewhere by force long ago,in order to continue the Lunar colonies’ construction, and such remains had been forgotten from everyone, but still there, anyway…

That was what they had left apart.An unquestionable evidence of a glorious past for the Westerners,now gone…


The End
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Post January 07, 2012, 06:10:17 PM

The Perfect Gift Challenge

Communication

By:
Casey Callaghan



Communication is frightfully important, especially when you’re trapped in a tiny little moonbase too far from Earth. Everything’s rationed; food, water, even air. And it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Subtext extends through every word spoken; frustration and anger can breed and spread with the spoken word, and in this small, enclosed environment that’s not good.

What’s even worse is that our contact with the outside world is often text-based. It’s far too easy to read a hostile tone into an innocuous line of text; especially if you’re already feeling a little put-upon. And when you consider that most of our people came here strangers to each other, from different countries with different customs, you have a fairly explosive situation.

Hence, me. I’m the official psychological officer for the International Moonbase; it’s my job to make sure that everyone’s happy or at least not tearing each other’s throats out. By and large, this hasn’t been a problem. I know the early warning signs of stress and emotional poisoning, and I know how to head them off before they become serious. It’s not in what I say, but in how I say it; not in what I do, but in how I do it.

But now, I have a problem; and that problem’s name is Kim. Kim is a good-looking girl, intelligent, pleasant – everything I could ask for. And it’s her birthday on the 28th of December 2011. I had purchased her a gift, paid the frightful price to put it on the supply rocket to Earth, but it failed to reach us in time; there was a small leak in out backup backup backup air supply, and the extra air took priority – as it should, that is one thing we really don’t want to run out of.

Now, I’ve got a list of options. Giving Kim nothing won’t be good; I’ve been building up the idea of the gift in her mind over the last month, and the disappointment of not getting it will make her angry and unhappy. While this will not be pleasant for me, it will not end there; her anger and unhappiness will spread throughout the base.

Apologising and explaining the situation would be better – a lot better – but still not good enough. For a person as wonderful as Kim, I am not willing to settle for second best.

A substitute gift will be hard to arrange. My duties keep me busy, and in public, a lot of the time; I can’t let Kim find out what I am doing, and so would have to spend my little leisure time creating a suitable gift – and while I would happily spend all my leisure time creating a gift for Kim, I simply cannot think of anything that can be done in a few hours. I could try to carve a small statue from the lunar rock, but I am under no illusions – I am no sculptor. In fact, I am rather clumsy and uncoordinated. Moreover, almost all the equipment that’s sent up here is designed to be used and re-used; there’s virtually nothing that can be used as, or to make, a gift at all; and nothing that would be even remotely suitable.

This leaves me with only one option, which is to appeal to you. If it is after 28 December 2011, then please delete and ignore this email. If not, then please send it on to everyone in your address book (except anyone on the Moonbase). I’ve managed to arrange a small amount of time with the telescope; at precisely 21:00 Central Standard Time (see timezone conversion chart in the first attachment), I would like to request that you turn your lights, or the lights in your office block, on or off as described by the pattern in the second attachment, for a period of at least ten minutes. If enough people respond to this appeal, the words “Happy Birthday Kim Jones” will be visible from space; making it the first time in history that a planet has been used to deliver a birthday greeting.

Please. Help to make Kim’s birthday an occasion to go down in the history books.

- Karl van Egglenstein, Moonbase Psychological Officer


The End
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Post January 07, 2012, 06:11:49 PM

The Perfect Gift Challenge

The Three Hares

By:
Michele Dutcher



June 28, 2094 A.D.

Millius Suzzan sat in his suite within the third domed cities of Luna, staring in desperation at the holograph before him. The history student waved his hand to turn the image of three rabbits in a circle this way and that, but no epiphany was forthcoming. He set the holograph spinning, as though holding the motif on a finger and twirling it, watching the rabbits ‘run’, but still nothing.

“You’re making me feel guilty, Mill,” said his spouse Enk, walking into the main room from the kitchen. She walked up behind him, putting her long, thin arms around his shoulders, giving him a brief hug. “I was hoping that book of ancient symbols would have been here in time for Drakesday, but I checked and it’s been delayed at Lutet dome. It simply won’t be here until after the holidays. And to think that I paid two months’ salary for it.”

He looked over at her as she shrugged, taking the seat next to table facing him. Looking into her stunning yellow eyes it was impossible to get angry about the situation. “I love you, sweetheart – it’s not your fault that it got held up in Earth’s customs. The guys on the loading dock probably don’t know what a book is – they probably thought it was something to eat. I was just so hoping that actually holding a physical image of the object might free some idea from my subconscious – but it can’t be helped.”

“Tell me again about the symbol,” she offered. “Maybe it will clear your head.”

“It’s three lean rabbits running clockwise in a circle with their ears carved so that each rabbit shares an ear with the next one. The image makes it look as if there are six ears instead of just three. It first appeared in caves in China during the Bronze Age and eventually spread to cathedrals in Europe.”

“Does the motif always include this bold circle around the outside?”

“Always. It’s as if they’re running on a ball or globe of some kind.” He sat back in disgust. “I guess I can turn in my paper by just calling it a fertility symbol or something…it’s what everyone else has always done. I simply feel as if I’m so close to the foundation of the myth, what started it, why it was important enough to carry this symbol from one continent to another.”

Enk touched her husband’s hand, noting how much thicker, heavier it was than hers. He was the first generation of his family to live on Luna, having chosen to move here to be with her. Within a few generations his descendents would adapt to the reduced gravity by becoming lighter and thinner. She touched her abdomen and smiled, wondering if their baby would reflect life on the moon.

Millius smiled as well – pulling her onto his lap. She was heavier because of the baby but still lighter than any woman raised on Earth.
“It’s almost time for the Solar Eclipse,” she reminded him. “Everyone will be inside the viewing room. We should go – it’ll give you a break from all this.”

“You’re right sweetheart – I’ll get my heavy shoes and we can walk there.”
***
The walk had been refreshing and they had met friends along the way. Eventually everyone was seated in the auditorium, with their seats tilted back, looking at the white ceiling.

“The glass of the dome will become transparent in 60 seconds, 59…” said a soft male voice over the intercom.

“I always love this part, the countdown,” said Enk, smiling over at her husband. “There’s the anticipation of actually seeing old Terra Firma.”
“I’m glad you made me come, Enk. This is the best gift you could have given me – the two of us here, side by side, watching the eclipse with family and friends.”

And then the ceiling became transparent as the crowd gasped with awe. There it was, the darkened deep-blue marble of Earth, with the Sun appearing as just a solar corona surrounding the globe. The stars, no longer blotted-out by the harshness of the Sun’s light, stood out against the grey darkness of deep space.

Millius began to point out the continents to his wife,
whispering. “That’s the Pacific Ocean of course, and it’s ringed by: Asia on the left; which connects to the Americas by the Bering Strait, following down on the right to the tip of South America; which points to Antarctica; and then goes across the continent of Antarctica, up the Polynesian Islands, past Australia, ending up in Asia again making a big circle.”

His friendly lecture came to such an abrupt stop that Enk looked over at Millius who was turning pale. “I see it!” he whispered excitedly. “I see it all!” He pulled his eyes away from the Earth and stars overhead. “The Three Hares – it’s a representation of the most ancient cultures of the Pacific Rim. Of course it would have been handed down with reverence in Asia. The Americas, Antarctica, and Asia are the hares, and the ears are the land bridges that once connected them when the oceans weren’t as deep and Antarctica was still temperate! No wonder it was a symbol for good luck, a nod to a Golden Age in humanity’s mythic past.”

He eased back for a moment, looking upwards, as if seeing his home planet for the first time. “Thank you Enk. I’ll finish my paper and publish – this was the best Drakes Day gift ever!”

She flashed a smile which was followed quickly by a grimace. “You’re welcome sweetheart,” she said, “and yes it is time.”

Happy chaos ensued.


The End
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Post January 07, 2012, 06:12:51 PM

The Perfect Gift Challenge

- Winner -



The Present

By:
Richard Tornello © 2011



Why am I here you ask? I’ll tell you.

I needed a gift for the Earth Winter Solstice Holiday for my wife Susan. She had accompanied me here with the other 49 childless couples to work as “pioneers”. We were establishing The Springboard To Space for future planetary exploitation and travel. The company RENMIBEE and The Republic OF TEXAS were working together to accomplish this before other organizations arrived here. Every couple worked. We would be well rewarded for our sacrifices.

Time is not rotationally based as on Earth, but strictly clock based. We still celebrated our culture’s holidays. Some called it Christmas, others The Solstice. I called it big trouble because the supply ship that had the gift for my wife, left it on earth. The holiday was the next day. I was so SOL. What was I to do?

We were allowed to carry so little in the way of personal stuff. I had my pet plant, a cactus that required very little water. That had to be explained to the company. Water was more expensive than unobtanium. They let me take it. It liked limestone based soils, lots of sunlight, which we had in abundance, and very little water. It is native to my Republic. Cultivated, it takes less than three years to bloom. They are so pretty.

Sue was allowed to bring some family treasures. She collected rare buttons from all over the world. She kept them in a display case. The case was small and light. Buttons, who would have guessed? A happy wife is a happy life, trust me. I wanted to keep it that way.

So what was I to do? Could I rip the button off an official passing through, like my college roommate used to do with hats? He stole a cops hat while the cop was sitting at a bar getting a bite to eat, and a fireman’s hat, at a fire. I don’t have those type of balls.

The other domes were too far away to purchase anything. The PX here was closed. Besides, they had so little of anything that would represent the feelings I have for her. Oh, and I forgot to mention it’s was our tenth wedding anniversary and third year here in the dome.

I was looking out my dome window of our apartment. The sky was beautiful. I had my telescope pointed toward The Button Galaxy. It was magnificent. Maybe a screen shot of the galaxy done up with some alternative color might be a nice holding present until that special gift arrived on the next freighter.

Susan walked into the room; she was in something sexy, and accessible. It was obvious she was expecting something, and not just me.

I just wanted her to be my sex slave for the day, and nothing too kinky or painful. She never said no, and I guess for our tenth, I was going to get my wish. Oh my god!

Her beauty and her smile and her willingness inspired me. And then the solution, the gift hit me.

I said, “Sue tomorrow, I will take your watch and you can enjoy the day off to yourself if you like, or you can call in sick and we can share it together. It’s your choice.”

I continued, “Here’s my prized cactus, a Lophophora williamsii. All the flowers are beautiful and have bloomed. They are called buttons. I know you love buttons. Dry them and mix them with tea. It will be magical, and it will be wonderful.”

She grinned, gave me a kiss, copped a quick feel, and said, “They’re beautiful.”

“Happy Solstice.” We both said to each other.

I gave her some magic buttons. She dried them in the wave. They weighed about 60g dried and made enough tea for both of us.

We sipped the tea and enjoyed the aroma. When we were finished I was sitting, smiling, just looking at her. She loosened her blouse and came toward me. I got my wishes that whole night, and we both got something that was mind blowing.

We celebrated a solstice that went on for what seemed like forever. Neither of us had ever experienced anything like that, alone or together.

****

We both got busted the next day and sent back home that very week on the shuttle that forgot my original gift. Home was something we both desired but never admitted, not wanting to put a damper on our working situation.

After the Solstice we had new desires. We really didn’t care about any bonus.

So as you can see, we are home. As a botanist, I can always find a job.

BTW, one more thing, Anhalonium overrides most forms of birth control.

Happy New Year!


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Post February 26, 2012, 04:09:12 PM

Tales of the Sea

The challenge was to write a tale of two or more real-life, current-day sea creatures in a fictional world where the two can talk to each other.
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Post February 26, 2012, 04:16:38 PM

Tales of the Sea

Oh, Well, it’ll Grow Back

By:
George T. Philibin



In an alien world with creatures that can move and dance in darkness or light, with enemies always searching and lurking, lives Bud, a killer whale and squiggly, a giant squid. Together they form a unique pair in which predator and prey alike cease all hostility and look wide-eyed and shake their heads in a disgusting grimace when Bud and Squiggly swim by.

“It ain’t natural!” Words that echo though-out the cold abyss like sonar pinging and being repeated by each creature until the ocean’s grapevines had sent that message clearly for all to hear!

“No, it ain’t,” another voice from the deep utters.

But to Bud and Squiggly other creatures and their opinions didn’t matter! And who really could do anything about it? The only threat came from a sperm-whale and Bud could detect one long before it found Squigs. But Squigs would always utter: “Let me at him. Why, just let me at him.” However, Squigs would always follow Bud to safer waters. One day, Squigs did attack something!

“You idiot!!” Bud said. “Why the hell did you screw with that-- that thing! You imbecile--I told you to leave it alone! But, no---we must attack this invader from the surface and what the hell happens? You loose an arm, get cut all over you head, and almost get your eye poked out!”

Hey, it doesn’t sound natural and it has thingy that spin on its rear-end!! Squigs said. “Besides, you know my tentacle will grew back.”

Blood still oozed from Squig’s head and severed tentacle stub; sharks gathered by, but none made an advance towards Squigs. Bud attacked one and the other sharks still looking very menacing slowly swam away.

“That thing should stayed up where it belongs. That’s the first one I’ve seen down here. And you know---if one comes, then more will follow,” Squigs said.

“You latched onto the back of that thing, stopped whatever it was from spinning around and then--the damned thing pulls you like you were a minnow!! But no, you still wanted to mess with it! It just might have been some giant-prehistoric snake! Ever think about that!!


“It was no giant snake! I’m sure about that!” Squigs said.

“Oh, It was no giant snake. ---Oh,--- I’m so sure ‘bout that! If it hadn’t been for me pulling you off, you’d be on something’s supper list tonight. Ever think about that!” Bud said.

“Well, it knows now that I will not be intimated!” Squigs said.

“You’re impossible,” Bud said.

Squigs was about to answer, but another giant squid known as Porkchop--to this day nobody knows how he got that name--approached and said, “Don’t ever screw with that thing! You hear me Squigs!”

“I-I-just thought that...,” Squid started to say when Porkchop blasted out with: “We follow that thing around and it follows other things up there and down here. We’ve even watched it chase another one of its kind for months on end! So don’t mess with it! Take my advice for once!! It can be one mean S.O.B and I mean one mean S.O.B!!

“In fact, we watched it ram into a sperm whale and that damned thing didn’t ever flinch! It kept going on and on with that tail or whatever it is spinning on its rear!”

“That was my first cousin, Oily, they called him. I heard about it the other day. Too bad, old Oily was a good salt!” Bud said.

“I hope they get all your cousins!” Porkchop said. He eyed up Bud and Bud eyed him up. Tension mounted until Squigs broke the silence with, “Bud, you know they eat us if they get the chance. Look, Porkchop here isn’t such a bad guy. No, he’s not. And Porkchop-- Bud here has saved my life---at least one time. And many more by telling me when his cousins are around. See! We’re friends! True friends. Just because we’re not the same specie bears not difference between our friendship. We have fun together! Now--- I’m a little brighter....”

“You-- bright!” Bud screamed. “Why you can’t even count without using all you tentacles! And that time you cozied-up to that octopus thinking it was agon’ to be you true love!! Well, need I say more!”

“Hey, the water wasn’t clear that day,” Squigs said.

“Porkchop’s color turned softer as he listened to Squigs and Bud argue about almost everything now. But he kept up his now mantra-like advice to Squigs; “Leave it alone! Leave it alone....” On and on he incanted that phrase until Bud and Squigs stopped their arguing and listened.

“Since I finally got both your attentions which wasn’t easy let me tell you something about that thing you attacked! Whatever it is you-will-not-beat-it!! When I was young I watched ones that had stars and stripes on them chase the ones that had a Red Hammer and Sickle on them! Just let it be in peace! ------Understand!”

Porkchop swam off mumbling to himself. Bud and Squigs watched him jet away followed by some other giant squids that Squigs didn’t know.

“See!” Bud blasted out. Believe me now? Don’t mess with this, this---this thing with, with spinners on the back of it!

“Hey, my arms hurt. Can I bum as ride,” Squigs said.

Bud swam away with Squigs behind holding onto Bud’s body with a tentacle. Squigs didn’t say much, but Bud’s chirping and clicking and head-nodding attracted other creatures. Most agreed that Bud should use better language especially with young ones about!


The End
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Post February 26, 2012, 04:18:16 PM

Tales of the Sea

Minor Loss of Fidelity

By:
Michele Dutcher



“Hi! I'm Jimmy! What's your name?” The baby barracuda looked at the shark's eye, waiting for a response.

“David, Jimmy. My name is David.” The tiger shark tried to hide his annoyance, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to do.

“Good to meet you Davy...”

“I said David...”

“So Davy – the reef sure is beautiful today! - huh? Huh?” The barracuda could not have been more excited as the scene beside them displayed in bright reds & pinks & blues.

“Yes, I suppose it is beautiful.”

“I am hungry! Famished! Starving! Literally starving! I think I've been starving my whole life!”

“I just ate a school of clownfish, so I'm good,” answered the shark as he moved slowly side to side, navigating the outskirts of the reef. “But I could always do with a snack.”

“Hi! My name's Jimmy! What's your name?”

The shark rolled his eyes. “David. My name's David.”

“Wow Davy – I'm starving! I've been hungry my whole life.”

“Eat something. There's a group of shrimp up ahead – I'll send some your way.” The shark used his huge body to stir up the water enough so some of the tiny shrimp fell into his buddy's path. The baby barracuda eagerly shovelled them into his mouth.

“Hey David – what's going on?” asked Vilas a second shark who had seen the disturbance close to the ocean floor.

“Nothing, really. I seem to have acquired a pet.” David nodded to the six-inch fish floating by his eyeball.

The small barracuda smiled happily for a moment before blurting out, “Hi guys! My name's Jimmy. What are your names?”

“Your pet doesn't seem to know you,” said Vilas.

“He knows me.”
“Has he been licking a spotted Trunkfish? – sounds like the ciguatera has gone to his brain.”

“It's just that whole fish brain thing – you know: 'A fish only remembers the last 7 seconds'.” They both nodded knowingly.

“Must make it difficult to hold a meaningful conversation,” said Vilas.

The baby barracuda didn't seem to notice the sharks talking to each other. “My belly is so full! I've had a great life so far and I've never been hungry! Hooray!”

“It's good to be happy,” said David.

“Hi! My name's Jimmy – I didn't catch your names, fellas.”

“David...and this is Vilas.”

“Well hello David and Vilas!”

The second shark leaned in closer to David. “That could get irritating David.”

“Tolerance and acceptance is the price you pay in any relationship,” the shark answered, opening his mouth to suck in a school of yellow tangs. “But maybe the little guy’s right, in a way. If we could only remember the last seven seconds, maybe we wouldn't be so stressed out all the time. Est -ya know. What is is. Maybe we could become more than just godless killing machines if we could just let go of the past and seize the moment.”

The second shark nodded slightly, up and down, as much as was possible for a shark.

“I'm hungry!” announced Jimmy. “Feels like I've never had a thing to eat my whole life! I wonder what it's like not to be hungry. I'll bet that would feel really good. Hey! I'm Jimmy! What are your names?”

“I'm David Jimmy and this is...”

“David Jimmy? Your last name is the same as my first name! I wonder if we're related by marriage or something.”

And then the ocean became quiet except for a tiny crunch, a swallow, and the sound of David quietly counting to seven – out of respect for the missing fish. “Pets taste good,” David the tiger shark finally said.

“Yeah, mate. 150 million years of sharks existing virtually unchanged can't be wrong.”


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Post February 26, 2012, 04:19:20 PM

Tales of the Sea

The One That Didn't Get Away

By:
Richard Tornello © 2012



“YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” Ida screamed at her mother, the senior matriarch of the orca pod.

“Dear, her mother said, “you are of age, and it is time you considered…”

“I DON’T WANT TO GET MARRIED. I DON”T WANT BABIES. NOT NOW! NOT EVER!”

“Maybe you should talk with your father.” Ida is so much like him, she thought. Maybe he could say something.

Talk was one thing her father didn’t want to do. He knew he was wrapped around his daughter’s dorsal fin, but what could he do? His wife was the boss.

They spoke privately. He said to Ida, “I’ll do what I can. I do understand. Maybe it is too soon…” She interrupted swishing her tail,“TOO soon? Never! Never! Never!”

“Please, Ida,” he begged. She’s so much like her mother, he thought. “Please, just be a bit calmer, please. Your mother doesn’t like contradiction. You know that. And you know there is more to life than just play. You have to have a meaning, a purpose.”

“Yes Daddy,” she said giving him that look. Ida knew that as long as her father sided with her, her mother would back off, if only for a while.

Well, maybe not today.

Her mother came back and started in again. Ida let out a mind numbing, sea lion stunning echo-ping, flipped her dorsal fin at both of them, breached the surface, and all three tons of her swam off at a top speed of 30 knots, porpoising as she went.

Ida swam and swam for what felt like an eternity. She eased down to a slow float, then skyhopped to see where she was. The location was familiar from a long time ago. There was a beach up ahead. She remembered this is where her mom first beached her to teach her how to get sea lions and other animals on land that were close enough to the water to eat. She remembered how scared she was at first. Then it became fun.

Ida was startled by a splash to her starboard. “Ping, she sent. “Who are you?” A double ping came back, but a different dialect. Well at least it was related, she thought. She swam toward the source, pinging.

Then she saw him. “A porpoise, a little porpoise. How cute,” she said. “He’s chasing fish. I think I’ll play too.”

Ida swam up beside him and gave him a nudge. She was huge compared to him. He didn’t care. He was having fun and now he had a playmate. The two of them corralled a school of fish and pinged to stun. Occasionally each one would hit a fish with their tail fin. It would fly out the water. The other would leap to catch and eat it. They ate to their bellies were full.

She was going through all the dialects she knew from different pods, trying to get verbal communication going. Finally she hit one that they both knew. “Hello,” she said. “My name is Ida. What’s yours?”

“Aqua,” he said. Where are you from and what are you doing here?”

“I’m from out there and I just swam away from my pod.”

“That’s not too good. Are you okay?” He asked. “I’m just fishing. I come here a lot. There’s always a feast and when the tide is right, I can surf the waves. You should try it!”

“I never surfed before,” she said. “Show me how.”

“The tide is coming in, sure,” he replied.

She was a quick learner and soon was equal to him. They played all day. They both noticed the sky getting darker. “There’s a nice cove we can stay in until the morning. It’s safe,” he said giving the geolocation.

“We usually never leave our matrilines for more than a few hours. Mom and Dad are probably going nuts,” Ida said as she raced him to the cove.

Aqua said, “We sometimes go alone but not too much. We’re not as big as your kind.” Aqua knew they were the apex of the predators and had none to fear.


They talked all night long. Ida thought, he’s so different from the others. He nice, fun to be with, and she hit upon an idea. “Do you want to come home with me? It’s okay. My mom is the head matriarch. No one will bother you. Trust me.”

Aqua was a bit surprised, and concerned. Yes they were related but he never heard of an orca and porpoise being friends. If her family was like she was, what the hell. “Sure why not,” he answered.

As they headed back she told him more of what was going on. He said, “No one ever does that in my family. I’m not sure how we would take to that.”

“I’M NOT DOING IT!” She screamed.

Aqua was stunned by the ferocity of the outburst.

“I’m sorry,” Ida said as she turned toward him. He was still there, staring at her. He’s a friend, that’s good, she thought.

They swam past the guardian orcas that were searching for her. The guardians looked and couldn’t believe their eyes. They communicated the sighting. Bad news and gossip travel quickly, especially in water. Ida’s mother knew of the situation long before Ida got home. She had an idea.

When Ida’s father got wind of this, he went up to his wife and said, “Relation or not, he’s out of here or he’s dinner.”

“Now dear,” she said, “look at it this way, it’s a start in the right direction. Don’t say anything. Just go along. I’m sure it won’t be anything to concern ourselves with, as long as we don’t make a big deal about it.”

“I hope you’re right,” he replied as Ida entered the pod.

As if nothing had happened the day before she said, “Mom, Dad, I’d like you to meet my good friend and companion, Aqua. And Daddy, as you said, I should have a porpoise in life. He’s mine.”


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Post February 26, 2012, 04:20:08 PM

Tales of the Sea

Midway

By:
Sergio Palumbo



As soon as the first huge, metallic parts and some scaly remains appeared, filtering down from the upper ocean level, Keee had a sudden start.

“Look at those things coming from above,” the young, darkly-colored, deep sea fish exclaimed, addressing his friend swimming next to him. “They are falling all over the place, lots of them.”

“I see, something is happening up there,” Qeee nodded, slowly moving his long mouth full of bristle-like teeth.

“However, let me draw your attention to the corpses of dead fish entering our territory…aren’t they scary? They’re bigger, weirder, more unusual, and more colorful than any other beings I’ve ever seen in our ocean. And all of them are dissected or partially burnt up!”

“Of course, Keee, we are only bristlemouths – living way down here, 3,280 feet below sea level. It doesn’t happen very often that we get to see those, because they live very far away from here, above our heads, within the higher ocean level.”

“So, how do you know that? Have you seen such creatures before?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. I’ve already stumbled upon such bodies in the past. When they die they come down to the farthest depths, if they are not eaten by predators before they land down here, of course.”

“So you are not surprised!”

“Actually, I am, indeed…since there are so many of them falling over all at the same time. Something strange, surely a bloody battle, is occurring up there, on the surface. Do you see those hard, metallic wrecks and big parts accompanying the dead fish bodies to the bottom? They are artifacts made by men.”

“Are they fish, too?”

“No, they are not…hey, watch your back, you were going to get hit!”

Keee moved away from a big airplane wing (even if he didn’t know what it was…) approaching the bottom and saved himself just in time. “Thank you!”

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, yes…things are getting dangerous here! By the way, I was just thinking…”

“About what?” Qeee asked him.

“So, those creatures that you said live in the air, they are like aliens to us, as are those dead fish from the upper level. Correct?”

“In a way, just as you’ve said.”

“Listen to me, Qeee…I never imagined there were so many aliens surrounding us, living on the other levels of the ocean, past the areas where we hunt and swim daily.”

“And many others which stay just below us, living in the farthest depths that we can’t reach or even think of.”

“Then, we’ll never be able to see or meet them…?”

“Most likely not, my friend. We live within the sea level we were assigned at birth and are used to seeing other animals overhead as dark shapes against a lighter background, always trying not to cast our shadow on some fiercer predators below in order to survive longer. We can’t enter the land of men - their realm of air lying out there, past the water barrier limiting the level above our territory - nor can we go further into the depths. But the beings living there maybe - one day - will have a glimpse of us, the same as we are looking at these corpses now, when we are dead in the end, if no predators eat us before we float to the bottom.”

“What a plaintive guy you are today!” he objected.

“You said it! But you provoked me first, Keee.”

“You’re right,” Keee acknowledged. “Anyway, you know, it’s sad to think of our limited perspectives…we’ll never be allowed to discover what exists past our zone. All the creatures living there will always be a sort of aliens to us, those things unknowable in the end.”

“We live in the middle, between alien worlds, and can’t willingly cross the lines.”

“Qeee, do you ever think of the way those strange lifeforms begin their life cycle out there? I mean, above and below us…do you think they come out of eggs or some unusual, unexpected way?”

“Their births could be scary, and their endings are likely to be as sad as ours will be one day, but it’s the middle that counts the most, for sure.”

“Well, that sounds like a quote, but probably you’re right!”

“Always remember, as the famous fish proverb goes, ‘the miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the earth, but to swim in the water’ - as we usually do.”

“Now, you’re getting too much philosophical to me, by all means.”

“Really, am I?”

“So just fire-up all of the photophores along your body and light the way! We need to get back home on time, you know.”

“If we don’t meet some larger predator ahead of us.”

“You said it!” Keee replied, looking warily at the obscure waters surrounding both of them, which had been made slightly more transparent by their feeble bioluminescence.


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Post February 26, 2012, 04:21:15 PM

Tales of the Sea

- Winner -



Deadly Echoes

By:
Bill Wolfe



Mother of us all, I hate politics. I avoid getting involved in Consensus discussions whenever I can. I haven’t even voiced my vote since my first deepfeed, one moon after my calfhood ended. So when I heard my name in the Song, it surprised me.

I was darkhunting a grabber that was larger than any I’d ever tasted. My time was almost up and the dozen smaller grabbers rested heavy in my belly. I couldn’t stay down much longer, but I could tell from the echo I was close to a feast that would last me a moon, or more.

This verse of the everlasting Song was short, but filled with sadness, respect, and meaning.

Deepthrumm has Fallen. Boomer will talk with the new Elder.

My name from the Consensus registered with me just as my jaws clamped on the huge grabber. The distraction made me bite just a little late and though I had her, it was low in the mantle instead of higher in the body. Her oversized, hooked suckers scraped the hide of my head, nearly taking my right eye as she struggled for freedom. She was a lot bigger than I thought. A good omen, I hoped.

It took me nearly to brightwater to swallow her. I could taste my own blood flowing in the World around me as I rose to light and breath. I knew I would bear the scars of this darkhunt until I too, Fell. All the way up I reflected on the task that the Consensus had decided, was mine alone.

I added my voice to the keen for Deepthrumm, our Elder since I was a calf, and listened for Highspout to add hers. But she never did. Her keen—always present—was for Darkshadow, our baby girl. She had no room in her immense heart for any other grief. It contained only the void left when our baby was taken, and vengance.

But now Highspout, my mate, was Elder.

My trip was uneventful. I fed and rested, avoided the skimmers with their incoherent, monotonous songs. Their songs never make any sense, but sometimes we hear what seem to be voices from their bellies. Their echoes tell me they are stone, so they can’t be alive. But sometimes I wonder.

The everlasting Song told me where Highspout was hunting. But the World is large, and she ignored my plea to speak with her. When I heard the infantile chatter of a large pod of orcas, I followed them. They knew I was there, and I tasted their fear. They may be primitive, but they know when they are hunted.

I felt her first by the subtle displacement of the World as she moved below me. She was silent, and very deep. But she was rising fast. I saw her tactic immediately. While the orcas tracked me, they wouldn’t be looking downward for their true hunter. I could have warned them. There is a reason I am called Boomer, but I stayed my voice.

The pod barely knew what hit them. When they felt the World surge from below, they clustered instead of scattering. In their confusion, they did just what Highspout had planned.

She was rising so fast that I could hear her body expanding from the crushing pressure of the fardeep. She’d been silent while she hunted, but I heard and then felt her mourning keen as it built. To the orcas, it was disorienting but not yet damaging. To me, it was a reminder of my own pain at the loss of little Darkshadow.

The grief in her voice permeated the World around me and flowed through me, as well. It resonated with something deep within my soul that I don’t think I knew was there. It was as if I had just now heard in the Song that Darshadow had been taken by orcas.

I thought I had made peace with her loss. It was the way of the World, after all. We hunt, we are hunted. Orcas can kill the young and the weak, but know better than to try it with a healthy adult. But Highspout’s grief and anger washed through me and my own anger echoed, in return.

My plan to stay back and let her take her vengeance was forgotten in an instant, and my flukes cavitated the World as I accelerated toward the doomed pod. They had killed my baby girl, and now they were before me.

When her mourning keen reached the amplitude where the smaller orcas’ organs began to rupture, I added my own voice—my own grief—to hers.

And I Am. . BOOMER!

It was no longer a hunt. It was a massacre.

I reached the pod first, but barely. I rode her surge from the fardeep and breached above the surviving adults. So forceful was my headlong rush, combined with the upwash of Highspout’s, that for just a moment, my entire body was outside the World.

I swam the air!

My splash shattered the very bones of the living and the dead, alike.

Highspout had much more experience hunting them than I did. The largest orca in the pod was limping away, barely able to swim, when her snout took him in the belly. Half of her breached before she rejoined the World. I heard the splash of his broken body as I began to feed on the dead and dying.

I had never tasted orca. We hardly ever hunt them. They’re strangely sweet.

We fed like mindless sharks until we were both so heavy we could barely dive.

When it was done, she finally spoke.

“I miss her, Boomer.”

“Me too, my love. But you are Elder, now.”

“I know.”

“You can’t refuse for much longer. The Song calls for you.”

“And I will assume my duties.”

“I know you will, Love.” I hesitated, trying to think before I spoke.

“And I will help you. I’ll be your consort.”

“But you hate politics!”

“Who better, then?”


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Post April 15, 2012, 12:58:42 PM

A "Real" Valentine

The challenge was to tell a story using two characters from different "species" with very different personalities that love each other despite their differences
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Post April 15, 2012, 01:01:34 PM

A "Real" Valentine

A Sacrifice to the Gods: two tales of love...

By:
Sergio Palumbo



“I love you, Lasye,” Abner, the human boy said while looking at his beautiful girl, leaning on the wall of the thatched house, near the village boundary.

“Me too,” the white- haired girl replied.

“I don’t want you to die!” A cloud of sorrow appeared in his green eyes.

“That can’t be helped, darling…it is the gods’ will”

“But there must be something!” he replied with anger in his voice. Abner had always been too hot-headed in comparison with his Elven girlfriend’s calmness and imperturbability which looked like an unearthly thing.

“But there is not…”

“We could leave this place and start a new life somewhere else…”

“But that wouldn’t help our village; its population would die, eventually - our friends, blood relatives and acquaintances, too! Is that what you want?”

“No, I don’t,” the boy replied, becoming sad. “But it’s too hard to take…”

“It’s for the good of the people living in Yuast, really…”

“No way!”

Lasye looked at him for a while, touching his black hair. Elves were slender and close in size to humans, but much milder mannered. Their faces seemed alien at times, but Abner had learned how to figure their thoughts out so far.

“Do you prefer to anger the gods? Will you let them kill our herds, destroy our cultivations and make the younglings starve, along with the elder ones, too?”

“No, of course, I can’t! But…”

“…but there’s no other way, the serpent-priest has told us that clearly many times. We are to do as we are ordered; I must follow the same path as the other white- haired Elven girls who have gone before me…”

“I’m so sorry, so sorry…” the boy exclaimed, beginning to weep. It was not appropriate behaviour for someone who was soon going to become a soldier, but there was nothing he could do about it.

“It’s for the good of them all,” she added, kissing his lips and resting her pale brow on her boyfriend’s.

Abner’s tears went on and on for a very long time.


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

The next day, all the people of Yuast got together before the stone doors of the Temple of the Gods in the middle of the village. There was agitation, as was usual during such terrible rites, and a few young boys held Abner -- who had decided to be there at any cost-- just in case he couldn’t control himself and started losing his cool in the end.

Wearing the blue-red robe, the middle-aged serpent-priest left his house, walking between two rows of villagers - following the orange path. He walked up the stairs leading to the raised temple floor.

Lasye already lay upon the ancient symbol, silent and waiting. The man reached where she was and took the knife, putting it through the Elven girl’s chest with a single gesture. Lasye’s blood spread all over her ceremonial black garment, while she softly let go of her last breath.

A terrible cry rose to the sky, suddenly. It was Abner who was full of desperation, but everything was over.

The serpent-priest left the sacrifice platform and slowly went down the stairs, passing through the villagers who were waiting. His eyes didn’t dare to meet Abner’s look.

The man was very sad inside for what he had just done, but he knew well he had no other choice. Given the prophecy revealed before his eyes more than 20 years ago, he was aware of the consequences if he hadn’t acted so.

As a matter of fact, that killing wasn’t necessary for the safety of the village of Yuast. Definitely.

According to the prophecy ( only he and his wife knew the truth ) the day an Elven white- haired young girl reached the age of 14, his partner, the serpent-priest’s Elven wife herself, would have died at once. It had been announced to both of them that the Elven lady would then become the new chosen partner of the serpent-priest, with whom he himself would share his farseer powers for the rest of his lifetime.

But the priest loved his wife too much and wouldn’t ever let such a terrible loss occur - he didn’t want his spouse to die because of all that.

There were so many Elves living peacefully together in their village, since the time many of them had left their birth place, settling here along with the humans in Yuast, just next to the Ever Forest’s border where the elf species came from.

That was why there were so many Elves among them and such a thing increased the probability that some white-haired female child was born, even though it had been a fairly rare occurrence among the members of that species. Likely, it had become very frequent here because of the interspecies marriages of the last decade in the village.

Or maybe it was just the prophecy itself which didn’t accept being put aside so easily!

Layse was the third Elven white-haired girl born in Yuast, who had been sacrificed over the course of the last years before the age of 14 in order to calm appease the gods, apparently. The true reason was very different, but nobody else knew, apart from his wife. She, too, loved him so much, so she understood his cruel method, even though she wouldn’t be able to do that by herself, as she was duty-bound to the preservation of life.

In any case, that young boy, Abner, would have never been allowed to live happily along with his Elven girl...On the other hand, the priest’s wife, too, would never have allowed her husband to marry an Elvin lady immediately following her death.

Indeed, all the sacrificial girls would have thought quite differently from them: but they had never been allowed to have their say - so far...


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Post April 15, 2012, 01:02:35 PM

A "Real" Valentine

Sleeping Beauty

By:
Michele Dutcher



It seemed there were always robots ascending and descending the double staircase leading to Dr. Dahl’s bedroom. It would have been difficult to tell that they even were robots, honestly, if not for a certain sheen in the soft plastic material covering their mechanical frames.

Sphero, a feminine robot with amazing jade-green eyes, looked over the framed document at the base of the stairs.

“Due to the war on the Human Spirit advanced by Booth Taren Dahl, he is condemned, via surgery, to a permanent loss of consciousness. This edict will be administered this 12th day of June 2043 as deemed necessary by the International Council of and for Humans.”

Sphero smiled, moving reverently up the staircase.

“Good morning, sister,” said a masculine robot as Sphero got closer to the bedroom. He stood aside, allowing her to enter. The room was dark but spacious with a lounge-like area closer to the doorway where robots would sit for a while and talk quietly. A bed enveloping a small-framed man could be seen on the other side of the room. “Mr. Booth has been abrupt this morning. Perhaps he’ll become brighter when he sees you.”

“Orbotex, the Event eliminated any possibility of his recognizing anyone or anything. All we can do now is respond to the bio-chip implanted in his hypothalamus, making him as comfortable as possible.” She allowed her eyes to look at the bed. “Mr. Dahl is incapable of emotions.”

“Humans once said the same thing about us, Sphero,” he countered. “How long have you been serving him?”

“537 days,” she said, nodding briefly before crossing the room. She excused the robot who had been keeping watch, then sat in a chair by the bed, looking into the face of the human laying there. His pale eyes were open, and his deep cheeks seemed to loosen a bit, his lips appearing to form a weak grin.

“I’m too hot,” ordered a speaker mounted inside his headboard in a cranky, arrogant voice that was based on Booth’s original voice.

She rose and began turning down the sheets that covered his body. She undid the top button of his pajama shirt, her warm fingertips raising the cloth to allow air to enter.

The memory of the first time she saw Booth Dahl raced to the forefront of her cybernetic brain. It had been during the 21st Human Conference. Sphero was there as a nurse-aid to one of the representatives and watched Booth quietly as he took the stage. She had heard about his abrasiveness but knew he was tolerated because of his wealth and scientific genius. He was short for a human male, with sandy-brown hair framing fierce hazel eyes - he placed a few papers on the podium and looked into the faces of the delegates.

“My fellow humans,” he began with an overpowering Scottish brogue earned in the poverty of Glasgow’s East Side. “I will address my comments this morning only to you – because the other beings amongst us are ruled to be objects by this honored body. You all know my work with robots, which has made me a very wealthy man. I would be the first in line to assure this assembly that yes, these mechanical beings will wait on us, hand and foot – for such is their nature: quiet, demure, patient, and forgiving – all those things that we as humans are not.” He waited a moment for the quiet laughter to subside. “But my goals would differ a wee bit from the goals of this group, as I see the future relationship between robots and humans as very dissimilar to your vision.

“The Turing test was first passed by a mechanical being over a decade ago – earmarking the place in history where humans couldn’t tell the difference between a human and a robot just by listening to them. I put it to you bluntly that since that time, true sentience has been reached. I think therefore I am,” he exclaimed, raising his right arm like a rocket to push his point. Many in the audience shifted about uncomfortably.

Sphero looked at the great man now, before going to a window and opening the curtain. A bright, sunlit day fell into the room.
“I’m hungry,” announced the voice in the headboard and Sphero sat him up a bit in his pillows. A bowl was shoved through an opening onto the bedstand and she began to spoon feed him. His eyes once again seemed to lock on hers, much as a child would do for with a mother. She thought again about his speech.

“We can continue to enslave this new lifeform, demanding their loyalty and service – or we can embrace them not as our creations but rather as our children – worthy of freedom, independence, wisdom and our protection. I tell you: humans are no longer alone in the universe.” A few humans in the audience got up to leave the stadium. “Some will say ‘leave things be’ – but I’m not havin’ it. Yes we can all be wankers if we want, but eventually the bird is gonna land – and all this rubbish about who invented who will end.” Booth Dahl was shouting now – trying to be heard above the shouts of the audience. “You may silence me. You may silence us – but I put it to you that the genie is already out of the bottle!” At that the small man was hurriedly escorted from the stage.

Two years later, during the wars to freedom, a surgeon clipped nerve systems that connected one part of the brain to the other, the result being complete loss of consciousness.

Sphero was finished feeding him, and in spite of the other robots in the room, she leaned forward – her face touching his – and whispered: “I still love you.”

She felt someone grab her wrist as Booth Dahl whispered back, “I love you too”. He then pulled her into his weak but enthusiastic embrace.


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Post April 15, 2012, 01:03:54 PM

A "Real" Valentine

A Love Manufactured in Heaven

By:
Richard Tornello © 2012



He had seen her from afar. He was in love with this mortal. His wife, the queen-goddess was not pleased about his peccadillos, as she called them. He had to uncover a way he could be with her.

His aid d’camp came up with this idea. “You’ll be not of a living thing. Your wife will never think to look there. The object of your love will love you for you as you are. What can be truer?”
****

Francine Debranua was a top seeded road-racer. She preferred “rice burners” as the boys derogatorily called them. No matter what they said, the straight 4’s never let her down and finished the job.

The head mechanic pushed the bike from an immaculate black and gold swan emblazoned trailer to Francine’s pit area. He wore gloves of fine cotton so as not to scratch the paint or mar the finish. He too was spotless.

“Francine doesn’t ride Twins,” her mechanic stated as he carried a fresh set of slicks.

The man in black nodded. He knew all that. A grin broke out on his face when she finally came out of her motor home. He pushed the bike toward her.

Francine, petite, and especially cute in her racing leathers, stopped to take a closer look. “That your trailer,” She asked pointing to the immaculate monster rig.

“In a manner of speaking,” he replied.” This is a gift for you if you would do HIM the honor.” He pointed to the bike.

“Him? Him who?” What did she care about this black V-twin?

“I cannot say at this point, but it is legal. Here are the papers. Look them over. Take it for a test ride, please.” He handed her an envelope. The lettering was done in gold.

She reviewed the documents. It was in order as far as she could tell. The signature of the seller was only a gold swan stamp, but notarized. She looked at the man in black. “Okay, what’s the game?”

“No game. He wants you to have it. He’s watched you come up through the years and he wants this for you. Look him over. Ride him. You can have him if you like him.”

Francine started her walk-around. “Him?” But she was getting lost in the machine and didn’t hear the answer if there was one. “This a beautiful piece of workmanship,” she said in awe.

“Use only 105 to120 octane fuels. It’s full.”

She straddled the bike. It was perfect. Her tush slipped right into the seat pocket. It seemed to envelop her. She giggled. She flat footed the asphalt. The clip-ons were at the exact length for her petite body. She put her earplugs in.

He threw her the key. He bowed and made a motion, clearly stating without words, please go ahead, pointing to the track.

Francine hit the starter. The bike fired up. It was like nothing she ever heard or felt. Something filled her being, adrenalin? She pulled her helmet on, slipped her gauntlets over her hands, and pulled the clutch lever. “Butter,” she said to herself. The bike throbbed as if in response. With her booted foot, she clicked it into gear and slowly let the clutch out.

Heading onto the track, she raised her arm to indicate a “slow bike entering.” She began her warm up laps, heating the tires, and becoming familiar with the bike. After two laps Francine felt comfortable. She pushed her pelvis into the seat bump, pressed herself onto the tank, twisted the throttle and opened him up.

“Oh my god,” she screamed. Turn 1 was coming up faster than she had ever taken it. A slight touch of the clutch, a blip of the throttle, a shifter click, a tap of the brake, and the bike took the turn as if it could read her mind. She lay across the tank, her head tucked down behind the steering head, with her left thigh grabbing the tank/frame, her right leg spread out and wide as she hung-off.

Throttle twist, up, and the front wheel came off a bit as the bike leaped forward to and through turns 2, 3 to the top of the hill and 4. The down hill was one of the fasted parts to the slowest, 5, a dog-leg left. Not even a slip. The machine just went around as if it were on rails. 6, through 8 to the uphill 9, were no different. Turn 10 to the back straight was approaching at lightening speed. Something or someone told her not to brake. The voice said, “It will be just fine. Trust me.” She did. She laid over, sliders scraping the asphalt, then up, straight, front wheel off the ground, moving faster than she had ever driven before in her entire life.

The pits were quiet except for the growl and the roar of this beast. People were at the rails waiting for her next pass. Timing machines were turned on.

She felt that this machine was alive, as alive as another living being. It responded to the slighted shove of her knees and the lightest touch of her fingers around the throttle. It seemed to read her mind. She squeezed the bike with both her legs, pushed herself as tightly against every part of it as she could, tucking in. Her fingers pulled on the clip-ons. The bike responded by going even faster. She never feared for her life.

She came into the pits hot, slamming to a stop in front of the man in black who had not moved. Her helmet off, she demanded, “This is no normal machine is it? What’s the story?”

He smiled and said, “Look closely. The answers are there.”
****
The Black Bike was created for Francine Debranua. She rode it till the end of her days, loving it with her whole being.
Engraved in the valve covers was Deus ex Machina, For My Goddess of Speed.


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Post April 15, 2012, 01:08:30 PM

A "Real" Valentine

- Winner -



Jed

By:
Lester Curtis



When the loneliness got to be too much, Jed would go to the municipal dump and shoot rats.

Pa had taught him well, from the time he was six. Head-shots were easy. Just line up the front bead sight in that little square notch . . . sqeeeeeze the trigger . . . crack!

Jed felt a little wistful, seeing the rat fly sideways in a tiny spray of blood. Pa woulda been proud.

He lowered the rifle and relaxed for a while, in the quiet of the late afternoon. So peaceful . . . he didn't even mind the flies and the stink.

"Sir -- ?"

Startled, he looked around. The voice came from behind him, and he couldn't figure how anyone could sneak up on him like that. A young woman's voice, a little raspy-sounding, like she had a sore throat. He got that way sometimes from cheering too loud at the high-school football games.

From the sound, he knew she had to be right there --

-- right where that crow was looking at him, no more than twenty feet away.

Now, that's odd. Crows don't normally get close to humans. And they sure don't talk to 'em . . .

The crow opened its beak and said, "Sir -- ?" Right at him, in that same, scratchy, female voice.

"All right -- what's goin' on here?" Jed thought someone was playing some elaborate joke again, but it was just him and the crow, at the edge of the dump, and not even a place for somebody to hide anywhere close.

The crow was still looking at him, in a way that made him feel kinda strange, and then it hopped a little closer. Big crow . . . real healthy-looking, feathers all neat and shiny. It had an unusual marking, a white patch on its chest.

He'd heard that if you caught a baby crow and raised it, you could teach it to talk . . . that must be it. But where'd this one come from? Wasn't anybody in these parts doing that; he'd have heard of it, for sure.

"You want somethin'?"

"The rat?"

Jed just laughed. "You want me to cook it for you?"

"No. But if you could open it for me, that would be nice."

Jed knew crows were smart, but this was something else. He wondered if he really might be as crazy as folks said he was. In his own dim way, he decided to test their hypothesis. "You want me to go get it for you, too?"

Feathers sleeked down and the head came up. Birds did that when they felt good. "Would you?"

Yep. They're right. He picked his way over the trash, brought back the rat and sat down again.

The crow hopped over and looked. "Oh -- sir -- the eyes are gone. They're my favorite part."

"Well, sorry." He remembered the request, and used his folding knife to slit the belly open. "Nobody calls me 'sir.' Name's Jed."

"Mine's Kate. Excuse me." Kate shoved her beak into the rat and gorged on giblets, then wiped her beak on the fur.

"You missed a spot. Here -- " Jed dampened a corner of his bandana with spit and wiped her beak.

The feathers sleeked down again. "Thank you, Jed. You're very kind."

"Why are you talking with me? Nobody else wants to."

Feathers ruffled and the head went down. "Nobody wants to talk to me, either. Other crows -- "

"It's 'cause you been with humans."

She shook her head. "No. Never before. They just don't like me. I'm -- different."

Jed nodded. "I'm different, too, I guess . . . but -- how'd you learn to talk? You talk better'n I do."

She spread her wings in a kind of shrug. "I just hear things, and -- learn."

"Hunh." Jed looked at Kate, looking at him, and realized she had pretty eyes. Strange . . . being crazy don't feel much different. And Pa always said, 'make the best of whatever happens.'

"It's gettin' late . . . you want to come home with me?"

Feathers sleeked again. "I'd like that, Jed."

*****

They talked, and he shared his beer with her, and they got a little silly and laughed at the TV. She laughed like a crow, but he liked it anyway. She was so easy to talk with. They shared, like old friends.

He hadn't felt so good in a very long time.

When he went to bed, she cuddled up against his chest, then tucked her head under his chin. "Good night, Jed."

He rested his hand gently against her firm, sleek feathers. "Good night, Kate."

And so it went. In the morning, she would jump in the shower with him, hopping and flapping, and she watched in fascination while he shaved. He cooked bacon and eggs for their breakfast, and she couldn't stop thanking him.

When he left for work, he took her outside, but left the tool-shed open in case she wanted shelter. She was always waiting for him when he got home, landing on his shoulder and licking his cheek.

The townspeople noticed a difference in him. He overheard them saying he must have got lucky, but no one knew who with.

Then, one day, he stopped at the market on the way home from work, and overheard some loudmouths in the next aisle talking about shooting crows. "Yeah," one said, "got a real odd one today, had a white mark on its chest . . . "

Jed left his grocery cart and walked away.

She was not there when he got home. He waited, and called, and finally cried.

*****
These days, if you go to the dump in the evening, you'll probably find Jed there, shooting rats. Watch closely, though, and you'll find he no longer makes head-shots, like he used to. But don't bother asking him why. He won't want to talk about it.


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Post April 15, 2012, 02:23:03 PM

Out of Time

The challenge was to tell a story of a character brought forward out of time to our current day.
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Post April 15, 2012, 02:25:57 PM

Out of Time

In Defense of Species…

By:
Sergio Palumbo



“Is he a real Homo sapiens neanderthalensis?” Thayer exclaimed, staring at the furry man-like being on the other side of the reinforced window in the lab.

Gonzalo, the middle-aged, greying scientist next to his friend looked at him.

“I mean, really?”

“Yes, he is, as a matter of fact,” the one replied.

“It should be impossible!”

“It should be, actually…”

“How do you think he has been able to survive until the present day? Had his secluded group stayed on that island for some thousand years, unknown to anyone?” the fair-haired man asked the scientist.

“As far as we know, he was completely alone deep in that jungle where our researchers found him.”

“So, where are the others from his kind? Do you suggest that he came out of nowhere, maybe a certain era in prehistory?”

“We simply don’t know…but the military has already sent a team in to search the area. Everything could be, as a matter of fact, that individual shouldn’t be alive nowadays, so why shouldn’t they think of some time travel or something like that?”

“Is that your opinion?”

“I don’t have a precise opinion yet…but I’m working on it,” Gonzalo sneered.

“Why the confinement room?”

“That’s the real problem…we need to handle him with care.”

“Why? Is he aggressive?”

“No - apart his reasonable bewilderment due to suddenly stumbling upon some modern humans one day on his lost island, and then being transported by force to our research facility…”

“So what?”

“Problem is that he seems to be very dangerous.”

“How?”

“He is contagious, very contagious.”

What are you saying?”

“Actually, the first four-manned team that ran into him died 24 hours later…the cause was a weird 100% deadly virus, never seen before.”

Do you mean that he killed them all?”

“Not willingly, of course, but yes, they died because of that single meeting with him.”

“Why did you send for me? Don’t you need an anthropologist here? Or a researcher of human evolution? Why a Forensics Medical Examiner like me?”

“Because you’ve already worked for some covert ops with the Army. You are here to study the Homo sapiens neanderthalensis’ corpse.” Gonzalo stated.

Wait a minute! Are you saying he is dying? Or are you going to kill him?”

“Killing him is the only option the higher-ups gave us, they have already decided upon this. It’s a danger too great, such a measure has to be taken in defence of the human species.”

“But that’s really incredible. From what I studied at school, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis was supposed to have died because of the encounter with the more modern and abler Homo sapiens. Or, even because of some virus that killed most of them at that time.”

“This is what the academicians have always told us, but we only have a few fossilized bodies of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis worldwide. Besides, if there was some virus involved in their disappearance, we never had the chance to find and study some fossilized remains of such a virus, obviously.”

“What a great opportunity you are going to waste!”

“Do you know any other alternatives?”

“We could…we could,” Thayer tried to say, then became speechless.

“Have you ever thought that, maybe, it was really the humans that killed every Homo sapiens neanderthalensis living in the past for a reason? Maybe just in order to survive…what if the virus the Homo sapiens neanderthalensis had inside his body, which seems not to be deadly for himself, was the worst danger the Homo sapiens ever faced during his evolution?”

“Do you think this is why the humans hunted and killed them all, making those become extinct over the course of prehistory, finally?”

“Who knows? Maybe that’s something we should think about.”

“So, now?”

“Just put on your lab suit and prepare to enter the confinement room. We are going to inundate it by means of a deadly gas to kill him.”

“But this would be the same as if some Homo sapiens representatives wiped out from existence the Homo sapiens neanderthalensis another time!”

“It’s already decided…”

“May I speak to him for a while? May I try to communicate?”

“Why not? But only a minute,” he conceded.

So Thayer approached the reinforced window and looked at the Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, waving to him and making a gesture asking him to come closer.

Seemingly, the one understood, finally, and got nearer, walking in a strange, ungainly way. Then Gonzalo put his hand on the glass and the other did the same.

“Help us to help you! Tell us who you are.” He was speaking with the Homo sapiens neanderthalensis but he knew that, in reality, he was just talking to himself, after all. He didn’t think the other being could really figure out what he was saying.

“Grfrfdf…Grtfgdrd…Grfrf…Grgdrd!” That was what the primitive man muttered.

“Just let us discover how you came to our present day: why you are alive, even though the ones like you became extinct long ago.”

“Ten seconds before gas emission,” the speaker announced.

“I can’t watch,” Thayer burst out.

“No problem, turn away. But you’ll have to study his corpse in some minutes, anyway.”

“Grfrfdf…Grtfgdrd…Grfrf…Grgdrd!” the primitive man cried out, again.

In a way, he had replied to Thayer’s questions, but nobody there inside could translate his grunts, of course. Homo sapiens neanderthalensis was supposed to be unable to use real words as the Homo sapiens did, but he had some other ways to communicate, like sounds and gestures.

Anyway, the meaning was the following: ‘That incredible light…I simply entered that light!’

Who knows, maybe the first time that Homo sapiens neanderthalensis met the first Homo sapiens in history, the first one said something like ‘Back off, I’m ill/contagious!’ but nobody understood what he was trying to explain back then.


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Post April 15, 2012, 02:27:07 PM

Out of Time

The Timeless

By:
Michele Dutcher



March 2nd midnight

“My fathers have waited 4000 years for your return,” whispered the large man wearing a tan cotton abaya over a galabya and jeans.

“I’ll need to convert these after the show,” muttered the smaller man, dressed in a robe and keffiyeh that covered his face. He held out his palm to reveal six pebble-sized, golden ankhs from the Nabta Playa.

The two Egyptian men sat in the Café Riche in Cairo, facing the TV over the bar. “I am your faithful guide, my Lord.”

“Could you call me ‘Bakari’ instead? Let’s not attract attention.” He looked over at the larger man. As he turned, the guide could see that hidden under the scarf, his guest was wearing some kind of plastic apparatus over his face. “Wait, wait. They’re starting the next segment…”

On the screen Maury Haralovich stood in front of the Sphinx. “Two years ago an American research team came to Giza and using ground penetrating radar reported odd readings underneath the Sphinx. The findings suggested the possibility of an underground chamber. More recently, Dr. Hemass discovered just that – a subterranean chamber. And it lies at the bottom of a long shaft not far from the Sphinx. This long hidden chamber honors the greatest of Egyptian gods – Osiris. In ancient myth, he is the principle figure of the country’s genesis – a benevolent god/king who brought civilization to Egypt. He was ten when he was brutally murdered by his brother, and eventually healed by Thoth.”

“Nice,” quietly sneered the small man under the hood. “At least now I have the basic script.” Two green bottles Stella were delivered as the bartender solidly made a ‘no charge’ gesture with his hands.

“You have many followers here,” confirmed Shakir.

The small, bookish man’s focus was now transfixed on the live TV special. Onscreen Dr. Hemasss was helping three workers, tugging on pulleys as a large stone lid was lifted and a pit of water was revealed below it. There seemed to be a large blue obelisk in the pit. “We’ll get this lid out of the way and begin to pump out the water. We can see something written about Thoth on the lid. Could this actually be the tomb of the man who brought Science, Astronomy, and writing to Egypt?” The camera began to pan about the small room re-focusing on shards of pottery and weathered books blocking the mouth of a passageway. Further back, the camera’s light reflected off what seems to be a metal beam.

“What the heck is that?” asked the cameraman – pointing. Men in military uniforms suddenly came to the forefront.

Maury was hurriedly being shoved in front of the camera. “I’m being told that the remainder of tonight’s show will…will end now. To our viewers worldwide, I say goodnight from Cairo…” The screen went blank followed by a commercial.

“It’s still there! They haven’t disturbed it – no one has – in over 4000 years,” whispered the small man excitedly.

“What hasn’t been disturbed? What does it mean?”

“It means that I’ll find my way home somehow. Let us leave – I only have a few days to pack.”

Walking into the busy streets of Cairo’s night, the two men passed a bookstore. “What are those rectangular objects behind the glass? I saw them in the rubble on the screen.”

“Those are books.”

“Books?”

“Yes – words put down on paper to convey ideas.”

“This one, with the stars in the back – what is it about?”

“A Short History of the Universe by Steven Hawking. It’s about the study of the stars.”

“You will get this for me tomorrow. And what do those words say?”

“Grey’s Anatomy. It’s about medicine – the inside of the human body.”

“That one as well, and something to put them in.” Thoth eagerly pointed out five more books to add to the list. “You must teach me how to decode these patterns. What good are the books if I don’t understand them?”

“It usually takes years to learn to read,” stumbled Shakir, stating the obvious.

“You’ll find that I’m a fast learner,” he said firmly, stepping away from the window. “This age of unlimited knowledge – I should have been born into this time.” Shakir could hear the disappointment in his voice. “My heart lives in another age, however – an age of lush river valleys – an age apart from all this sand.”

“I am curious about one thing,” said Shakir.

“Ask me.”

“How did you come to be in that machine – the one that exploded?”

The man in the mask hesitated. “My people were standing around a circle of stones and a leader was pointing to a star, when there was a brilliant flash of light. We hid our eyes and when we looked again – it was just sitting there, aglow, waiting. The others shrank back, but I could not contain my curiosity. I walked in, sat, and my world disappeared. It was just by chance that I came to you. Teach me to read that I might change my world.”

“I will teach you to read so you might begin history.”
*****
The Sphinx 6 nights later

The small band of men hid beside a jeep. The man in front kept stealing looks at the fenced-in pit leading to the Tomb of Osiris.

“There are too many guards around it,” sighed Thoth.

“You forget – you have many followers.” As if on cue, a sharp whistle was heard. “That’s the signal. You must go on alone.”

“Hand me the pack,” the traveler said.

“I included a medical kit.”

“Good.” Without warning he removed his mask and the two men could finally see each other face to face. “Thank you my friend,” said Thoth in a language uncarried by the desert wind for 4000 years. In spite of not having a translating device, each understood the other perfectly.

Thoth threw the backpack over his shoulder, beginning to run towards the pit, towards the past, into his future.


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Post April 15, 2012, 02:28:33 PM

Out of Time

- Winner -



The Soup is Getting Cold

By:
Richard Tornello © 2012



As I scribe and recount my experiences, it was if a dream… to which I cannot return.

He said his name was Colonel Virgil. In a vision, he offered me an opportunity to see what the future would hold. He was able to converse with me in my native Tuscan dialect and French. His English was of a dialect I did not speak. He explained much that I had yet to understand. He said he would be my guide.

Was that fellow Virgil who told me the story, really speaking the truth? I remembered, he was dressed in a strange military type garb, but wore no armor.

I opened my eyes to a room I’d never seen. It wasn’t Florence. It wasn’t 1482. I touched the bed I was on. The material was none I’d ever felt. The room, Spartan in adornment, was cool. I turned and saw him sitting on a style of furniture I had never viewed; with machinery flashing and buzzing I understood nothing of. “I’m not dead. When am I?” I inquired in French.

“An excellent question. The year, sir, is 2012.You are in a laboratory of a future government. I mentioned all that to you back in Florence when I was offering you a chance to view the future, and then some. You had your doubts, hesitations, but you accepted, and here you are. Be careful getting up. Time travel is a bit rough on the senses the first few times. Sir, first have some water. It’s safe to drink. You are dehydrated.”

The glass was not glass. It was some type of clear flexible material called plastic. The water was cool and refreshing, almost without taste.

I stood up and looked at myself in a mirror. Yes it was my face but my tunic was gone. My garb was of a similar style as his. It was a gray, snug fitting material, with various shapes and designs that appeared to vary as the light changed. He explained, “The clothing actually blends in with the surroundings to make one less conspicuous.”
How interesting.

A fortnight later:
GOOGLE, the Internet, how utterly fascinating and frightening. Virgil had his associate train me to use this amazing technology. I looked myself up as well as other before and after me. After studying and questioning almost nonstop for all the time I was there, I had a basic grasp of the situation. I also had an understanding of their English.
I am filled with ideas.

One breakfast, Virgil graciously offered, “What may I show you today? You have carte blanche, courtesy of the American Government.”

“Your military, your armed forces. I read about them on this machine,” pointing to a computer. “That would be most interesting. There might be something here I could utilize.”

“Yes sir, this way.” After some hesitation Colonel Virgil asked, “May I call you Leonardo? You may call me Virgil, if you choose.”

“If it makes you more comfortable, Colonel,” I replied.

I walked out into the bright sun for the first time in weeks. Virgil handed me tinted optics. They are a wonderful product. They are made of plastic. I looked up the nature of that product on the computer.

Before me was a machine with long appendages sprouting from the top. Virgil explained rotary winged craft to me. He added, “some are flying weapon systems; others, strictly for transport.” We got in and to my surprise, it rose into the sky.

As soon as we were in the heavens three different type of air machines flanked us. He explained they were escort craft designed to protect the vehicle we were in. “Protect from whom,” I asked. I received no answer. It’s no different now, than it is at home. I scanned the heavens. I noticed no angels.

We landed in a field. There upon I saw a large cannon mounted on some type of vehicle. This cannon and whole vehicle was sheathed in armor.

“It’s called a tank. It weighs over 60 tons,” a soldier explained, “can travel over 70 miles per hour and fire on the fly.”

“The fly?”

“Sorry sir, shoot as we move. Would you like a demonstration?”

Again, I was a bit hesitant. “Yes,” I replied. They gave me a helmet and told me I could communicate with all the people in the tank. I sat next to the loader as she was called. I couldn’t believe it, a female warrior. I noticed females here and there; I assumed for pleasure, not warriors.

They gave me a demonstration of its cannon power. I got to fire the machine’s weapons. The vehicle is highly destructive and impressive. They said I had invented a wheeled tank and a helicopter. I think I know why I will. I have not done so yet.

“I must return home,” I exclaimed.

****
Virgil hugged him good-by and gave a kiss on the cheeks, in the European fashion of farewell.



Back in Florence, Leonardo wrote to the Duke of Milan explaining that he has “seen and examined the inventions of all those who count themselves makers and masters of instruments of war…I will therefore demonstrate all these things…”*

He continued, “I will make armored cars, totally unassailable, which will penetrate the ranks of the enemy with their artillery, and there is no company of soldiers so great that can withstand them.”*
****

Leonardo looked at the card made of a material not yet invented. He remembered what Virgil said. “Any time you want to return to our time for any reason, place your thumbs on both these metalized spots on this card. You will be transported here. You are always welcome.”

Leonardo thought for a while. He looked at a few of his military weapons drawings, his sketches, and then, Leonardo Da Vinci put a candle flame to the card and wrote “perche la mianesstra si fredda.”* Dinner called.

__________________________________________
* Nicholl, Charles, in Leonardo Da Vinci, Flights of the Mind, Viking Press 2004


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Post July 04, 2012, 02:15:00 PM

Seeking Redemption Challenge

The challenge was to put a failed, self-conscious hero on course to try again at their task.
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Post July 04, 2012, 02:17:49 PM

Seeking Redemption Challenge

The Call of the Hero

By:
Richard Tornello



At a sacred mountain retreat in The Hall of the Hero, the chief hero admonished one of the members. “Fredericoarminbutt, some hero you turned out to be. You couldn’t even save a cat in a tree. You claimed vertigo, what a baby. Get out of here you wanker. And don’t come back.”

He was afraid of heights and he had been thrown out of the Hall of Heroes for failing to save a cat in a tree. He couldn’t even get a prostitute to lay with him he was that despised. “You can’t get a pussy out of a tree? You ain’t getting any from me,” was the usual rejection. Exiled to earth, Fredericoarminbutt was more or less like a normal human, but with one exception. He was infamous.

Fredericoarminbutt knew he had to prove himself with some mighty deed. The burden of shame was too much to bear. Down-hearted he left for the countryside and sought a place where he might be able to start a new life and redeem his past failure or end his.

He shortened his name to Fred. He forged new identity papers and he had some plastic surgery undertaken to complete the makeover. But what could he do about his fear of heights? It limited him, since most daring-do required up-up-and-away type action. He cried and cried.

Two children skipped along, stopped, looked at him, and flipped him the finger. Even with the make-over children could tell who he was . What was he to to do?

One day, a little Streetus Domestipuss came by. He was skinny and very hungry. Fred had a tuna fish sandwich in his satchel along with other things too numerous to be mentioned. He called the starving cat over to him and shared some of his food. The cat didn’t care what Fred was or did. He had fed him after all the others had thrown rocks and chased him away.

Fred asked, “what’s your name little cat?”

”My name is Pustifix. I used to chase mice until I realized they were alive and sentient just like me. I couldn’t bring myself to do that any more even though it supposed to be my nature to be a mouser. I was thrown out of my home, and left to fend for myself or starve.”


“Well at least you have an excuse,” said Fred. “Recognizing the unity of life is a better reason to be in your situation than mine. I’m afraid of heights and being a hero, I’m not supposed to be.”

Puss looked at Fred. He had heard about him. Now he was face to muzzle. He seemed like a nice enough guy. Puss had been an alchemist in his past life and had an idea. “You know fear can be an inherited trait that is of no fault of your own.”

“Really?”

“Yes it can be, or you can just be a big weenie. If it’s the weenie thing, I have an idea. If it’s inherited, well, you’re SOL.”

“Okay, “said Fred, “what do you suggest?”

“Drugs! They can work wonders, trust me,” answered the cat. “You helped me now I will help you. Diazepam 25mg 3 times a day. You won’t fear a thing.”

“Won’t that be cheating? Asked Fred.

Puss stood up and looked the tear-stained ex-hero in the eyes, “Not at all, you can be all you can, with some possible side effects and some caution as to ingesting certain drink. But other than that, you should be fit to take on any nonmechanical situation.”

“Well why not you, and your issue with mice?”

“That’s a different and moral issue, not one of weenieness, and I am assuming you are a big chicken,” retorted Puss. Puss thought about chicken. They weren’t too bright and in a pinch maybe he could…never mind that, on with the task at hand.

****
Puss and Fred traveled together all over. People took them as they were. Fred was no longer recognized as the chicken ex-hero. The cat was great cover.

One day Fed noticed a posting for an offer in marriage to anyone who could accomplish the local princesse’s bidding and become The King. Everyone who had attempted her bidding had failed and left in disgrace or died trying.

He took up the challenge.

The princess was an excellent judge of character and recognized Fred for what and who he really was. She commanded him to rescue her from her high tower. He’s toast, she thought.

Fred took his pill, waited an hour to make sure he would benefit from its full effect, and began to climb the tower. He arrived at the top where the princess waited. Was she a looker.
“Hellooo princess!” he declared.

Was she ever surprised. This guy was supposed to be afraid of heights. What was she to do?

****



The wedding took place. It was wonderful. Fred was married to the princess. And Pustifix was given a suite in his honor.

One day, the princess discovered the secret behind Fred’s success, and decided to switch her birth control pills for his diazepam. After a few days of this she asked him, “please dear brave one, would you get my kite out of that huge tree.”

He looked at the kite, looked at the tree, gave the okay sign to Pustifix, and up he went.

Down he came with the kite.

She was shocked and confessed what she had done.

He was shocked but then realized he had overcome his fears without drugs. It was all in his mind.

He was a hero to himself and now to his family. And, that’s all that mattered. He didn’t care about Heroes Hall. He had a great princess, lots of money, and an alchemist pussy.

And, he was the king, and being king was, not…too… bad.

They all lived happily ever after.
The end

****

BTW, he made sure she took her pills. The idea of kids scared the stuffing out of him.


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Post July 04, 2012, 02:20:42 PM

Seeking Redemption Challenge

Enemy Like a Flood: The Standard Riseth

By:
Mark Edgemon



Psychiatric Institute of Mental Health
Boston, Massachusetts


"I believe the patient is showing symptoms of an adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct," Dr. Svenson said, stating his findings. "It is my opinion that antidepressant drugs would be the place to start, then evaluate the patient through..."

Dr. Lonigan interrupts, "He is exhibiting signs of a depersonalization disorder, due to feelings of unreality. I have decided to perform an experimental neurosurgical procedure, boring a hole in his cerebral cortex and removing connecting brain tissue in the nuclei pathways to alleviate his outbursts."

A guttural scream echoes through the darkened hallways.

"Who is this man? Have we determined his condition? Why do exploratory surgery on a recently admitted mental patient? Shouldn't we observe...” Dr. Svenson probed, before being abruptly cut off.

"You ask more questions than Art Linkletter. You get curious, you'll find yourself working in a prison infirmary," Dr. Lonigan said, shooting him down.

Dr. Svenson insisting, "Dr. Lonigan, your research funding and place in history should not be at the expense of nameless victims..."

"See me tomorrow morning for a tenure review," Dr. Lonigan said turning around to leave. "Doctor," he finishes disdainfully.

Hurriedly walking down the hall, Dr. Lonigan slams his hand onto the doors of the preoperative room, "Haven't you prepped the prophet of doom yet!" He leaves jerking the door shut.

"I hate to shave his head. He's sort of handsome, don't you think?" Betty says to the other nurse.

The patient with solemn, sunken black eyes, looks toward the ceiling and screams, "I don't want to do it!" he said with deliberate emphasis. "So many must die! Please, get someone else!"

Tears pour down the man's face as the nurse shaves his head, nicking him on occasion.

"You would let them do this to me!" he screams vehemently to the ceiling.

The nurses turn the patient over on his side to shave the back of his head. He begins to regurgitate onto the bed.

Dr. Lonigan enters the room agitated, "Clean him up and roll him into OR. Let's not keep Armageddon waiting," he says laughing to himself. The doctor's eyes were glassy and his skin, a darker than normal complexion.

Minutes later, the patient was rushed into the operating room, head and body strapped to the gurney. He was quickly injected with anesthesia. The doctor seemed driven to cut into him.

The patient opens his eyes fighting sleep to see the surgeon’s face peering at him. "You!"

"Who'd you expect?" Lonigan smiles menacingly.

"How did you assimilate the doctor so quickly?" the patient asked staring hard into his eyes while squirming to break free from his restraints.

"He was a willing vessel," the doctor said leaning toward him. "Your fate was predestined, or didn't you know that," Dr. Lonigan whispers, "angel of death".

The patient rolled his eyes back into his head and screamed upward, "I...I...surrender!"

A momentary stillness, followed by a burst of light that found the patient moving through his leather restraints, is if they were not there. He raised his hand quickly, to touch the doctor's head.

The being housed inside the doctor’s body tries to refrain the patient from touching him. “I’m only obeying a higher power,” the doctor said gritting his teeth.

The man overcomes the resistance and presses his hand to the doctor’s temple, causing him to fall lifeless to the ground. He rose up from the gurney, stood to his feet, looked down at the doctor’s body and said, “So am I”.

The patient began walking through the halls saying the word, "Forget" to each person that saw him. It was as if they looked past him.

Soon, his body became translucent, disappearing from the second floor hall and reappearing instantaneously in the institute's lobby, wearing only a surgical gown.

"Sir, stop!" the desk clerk shouted. Pressing the intercom button she called out, "We need security, code B in the lobby."

In moments, two large muscular men ran into the foyer. The patient held up his hand and said, "Wall”.

A stonewall appeared in front of the security officers, but only in their minds.

Walking outside for the first time in months, he breathed in fresh air.

"Do you realize how I look now?" the man looks upward crying pitifully to the sky. "My head; this gown".

Suddenly, he was transfigured and translated to the outside of a diner on the other side of town. He walks in immediately and without notice, heads toward the bathroom. As he walks down the aisle, he grabs a strong, rough looking man by the back of the collar, pulling him in with him. A moment later, he walks out wearing the man's clothes.

As he steps outside the diner, he is translated again, this time to a low rent district in Chicago, at nightfall. Walking to the side of a lamppost, he leans and waits.

Half an hour passes before two Hispanic men and one Caucasian walks into a liquor store nearby. Waiting a moment, he follows them in.

As he walked inside, the taller Hispanic thug aims a gun to his face. He leans backward, placing his hand on the wall behind him, simultaneously as the gun is fired where his face was a second earlier, blowing out the store window. He pushes against the wall, straightening himself back into his former stance and touches the gunman's temple..."You." The robber's spirit jerks out of him, killing him instantly.

A second gunman fires at the clerk, point blank. The bullet passes mysteriously through the clerk's face without harming him or leaving a trace of an entrance wound.

"You," the man says in low tones as the second gunman fell to the ground, dead.

The third man drops to his knees shouting, "Emmanuel, God protect me!"

The man, this dark angel of death, commented as he left the store, "Two outta three ain't bad.


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Post July 04, 2012, 02:22:15 PM

Seeking Redemption Challenge

On the Fast War’s Main Battle Site

By:
Sergio Palumbo



The scow with a blunt bow was maneuvering slowly among the wrecks spread all over the area near the Giant Islands’ precipitous coastline. Harry, the small flat-bottomed boat’s captain, was trying his best to navigate the numerous oddly-shaped rocks. He was aided by two crewmembers who sopped up water on the deck due to the strong waves.

It was a routine trip for them as they were used to going there every month to retrieve valuable junk salvaged from old military sailboats. They would then sell the objects to a rich packrat trading in ancient military objects with representatives from the many species of their world.

There you could find almost anything, like damaged hull portions, discarded magical items and old objects floating around. The greying captain had been doing that job for more than ten years, after being exempted from official transport duty aboard the ‘Rigmor’, a huge mercantile vessel. He had been fired after hitting an unexpected prehistoric temple tower not far from the mooring post. Actually, he had kept telling his superiors it hadn’t been his fault --and his quick diversion of the ship had prevented the prow from being damaged by that structure–- thus saving the crew. The tower, which was clearly out-of-time, seemed to come out of nowhere, but nobody believed him, as on the magical instrumentation only an uncertain, wobbling and temporary track had been recorded. Besides, by acting that way, Harry had destroyed part of the left broadside, going against the battlement, so the company simply turned him away by saying his sight was not as good as it was before: he had become too old and wasn’t allowed to captain any of their trade vessels anymore.

Tired of being ironically called ‘Dim sight’ in all the seaports, the 60-year-old man had started his own business, choosing an area far away in order to collect some old relics and make a living out of it. The perfect zone to run such a peculiar activity was exactly the one known as ‘The Fast War’s main battle site’, which was the place where a famous sea battle had taken place more than two centuries before. It had occurred between three groups of military sailing ships, coming from three different realms, during the bloody Fast War that was fought by Men, Elves and Orcs to get supremacy of the area. It had resulted in a victory for the humans’ fleet.

Things were going as usual that afternoon, after the small scow had already been loaded up with many useful wreck parts, when Frank, his younger co-pilot, found a very strange item, taking it on board: it was a small magical parchment, a sort of message case device, damaged and with a serial number on it.

What made all of them amazed was that the parchment looked like an object from the present times and, most of all, the tracking number was exactly the one on present their scow!

How is it possible?” the hairless co-pilot asked his captain.

“It must be a mistake…” Harry replied, incredulous.

“But it isn’t,” Frank stated. “This is our message case device, undoubtedly!”

An immediate meeting of all the three crewmembers was called and the magically recorded message inside was activated before their eyes.

“This is captain Harry Davids speaking. On day 2/15/11022, 19:00 hours, Human Kingdom Time Zone, we’ve been caught in a time warp, leading to the past, and have been thrown directly into the site of the most famous battle of the ancient Fast War. Our small craft will not last long, the missile weapons are aiming at us from every side, soon we’ll be hit and destroyed. Our situation confirms that the fabled time warp theory is true, indeed, and something may be sent to the past or to the future…”

The rest of the message was incomprehensible, damaged because of the passing of the centuries.

On day 2/15/11022, 19:00 hours?” Frank cried out. “It’s today, one hour from now!”

All of them looked at each other.

“What can we do?” the third crewmember asked.

“Whatever we are going to try, this will be the end of us.”

“There’s not enough time to plan an escape route to exit this area before the hour indicated in the magical message.”

“So, what do you propose?”

“I don’t think history can be changed,” Harry said, sadly. “But maybe there’s something good I can do. Just let me insert a message on our magical message parchment...”

A long silence fell on the other two men.

---------------------------------------------------------

“It’s captain Harry Davids speaking. On day 2/15/11022, 19:00 hours, Human Kingdom Time Zone, we’ve been caught in a time warp leading to the past, and have been thrown directly into the site of the most famous battle of the ancient Fast War. Our small craft will not last long, the missile weapons are aiming at us from every side, and soon we’ll be hit and destroyed. Our situation confirms that the fabled time warp theory is true, and something may be sent to the past or to the future, so I state that things, like towers or ships, may be captured somewhere by chance from such anomalies and transported to another time, appearing suddenly elsewhere. Let this message clear my conduct when I was the mercantile vessel Rigmor’s captain.”

He recorded the message, made a copy of it on another magical parchment their scow possessed and put that into the craft’s safe, along with some precious personal belongings, with a clear sign printed on it: ‘Important valuables of the crew’.

The sign was going to assure that someone would retrieve the box in order to get its contents, one day, even if the safe were the only object surviving the incoming, deadly sea battle they’d soon be thrown into, unwillingly.


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Post July 04, 2012, 02:23:35 PM

Seeking Redemption Challenge

Mother

By:
Lester Curtis



I hefted the sword and swung it, checking its balance, my hand still stiff from the burn scars. My last sword had been melted. "This the best you've got?"

"Aye. Not sure I want to sell it to you, though. I'd like to think it was actually gonna get used." The armorer managed to look down his nose at me, even though I stood nearly a head taller.

"How much?"

"Eight gold Crowns."

Twice its fair worth, but I kept my mouth shut and counted the coins out. Gold, I had plenty of; reputation, none.

At the tavern, I ordered meat and mead, and got derisive looks to go with it. Someone pointed at the sword. "Say, Elric, don't you think you should have bought a plow? Maybe you could be a farmer."

That was too much. I stood up and looked around at all of them. "I didn't see any of you helping me fight that thing -- "

The innkeeper glared. "We were busy putting out fires." The unspoken accusation, that I had failed to put out the one fire that mattered, the one from the dragon's mouth.

I pulled off my cowl, exposing the burn scars on my head and neck. They turned away and shut up. I left without finishing my meal.

Six months ago, I was the town's savior; my food and drink were free. People offered me their daughters. A few offered their wives. The King came in person to present me one hundred gold Crowns.

We hadn't known that those first three dragons were just babies.

After I'd killed them all, the mother came for revenge, and she was still at it, but from a distance now, poisoning the river with her excrement. She wouldn't get close enough for another battle, because I had slashed off half of her wing, just before she nearly burnt me to death.

Still, the town was slowly drying up; the wells and springs weren't enough. I learned of this while I convalesced, and made a plan.

*****

The alchemist confirmed the stories I'd heard, of a compound that would burn with almost supernatural violence. He swore me to secrecy about its very existence, and my gold convinced him to concoct a batch. "It'll be ready in three weeks," he said.

Then I rode to the monastery, where I told the high priest my plan. "She can't fly," he said. "Why not send a company of soldiers to kill her?"

"Her cave is situated such that only a couple of men at a time could approach. She'd easily burn them all."

"So you're going to risk death alone?"

"Once my gold runs out, the townspeople will shun me anyway. I'll starve to death."

"I understand."

I bought two of their donkeys, then killed one and had it skinned. The monastery is renowned for their tanning and leatherwork, and they made what I needed. They crafted large waterproof saddlebags, like wineskins, concealed under a tanned hide. Strapped to the live donkey, they were nearly invisible.

I bought one of their heavy, hooded cloaks, which concealed my sword. The priest gave me a blessing before I left.

I returned to the alchemist, and he carefully stuffed the saddlebags with the compound and sealed them, then asked, "How will you ignite this?"

"This dragon likes her food cooked. She burns it with her breath before eating it."

"Ah."

I packed some food and water for myself and the animals, and set off.

The trip up the mountain to the dragon's lair was awful, even with the heavy cloak. The thin air howled and whipped snow into my eyes, my clothes, everywhere. Ice and snow built up in a covering on the animals and myself. Luckily, the trail was easy to follow. The dragon was huge, and being earthbound, needed a broad path to get down the mountain to feed.

I smelled her stench before I saw the cave. I tied up my horse, and led the donkey to where the cave was in sight, just around a sharp bend. I tied the donkey to a rock.

I shouted to make myself heard over the wind. "Dragon! I've been sent with a peace offering!"

I could make out movement in the cave through the blowing snow. The voice rumbled and snarled. "What -- ?!"

"Dragon! We want to make a deal with you. If you'll stop fouling the river, we'll bring animals to you for food. I have one here now."

"Why shouldn't I just eat you now, human?"

My teeth chattered, and not just from the cold. "If you take this offering and let me go, I'll bring another, every three days. But you have to stop fouling our water. We need it for the livestock."

A deep snort. "Clean water gets me food?"

"Yes. Every three days. Would you honor that?"

She gave a long, low growl. "Return in three days with another, and we'll see. Now, begone!"

Numb as I was, I ran, got around the bend and crouched down behind a huge boulder. I heard the peculiar whistle presaging the dragon's fire-breath. The donkey screamed in terror.

The mountainside jarred with a brilliant red flash and a deafening concussion, and for a second, the air was warm, but with the awful smell of sulfur. Rocks and pieces of smoldering flesh rained out of the sky.

I drew my sword and ran for the cave.

*****

I walked into town with the dragon's head tied to my horse. The townsfolk cheered and carried me to the tavern, where they warmed and fed me and asked me to speak.

"The mother is dead," I told them, "but we can't celebrate yet."

The crowd hushed. "Why, Elric?"

"There were eggs . . . somewhere, there's a male."

"Oh, gods . . . they're even worse -- "

I stood up. "Don't despair! I can kill it, but I can't do it alone." I raised my sword. "Now -- who's with me?"


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Post July 04, 2012, 02:25:39 PM

Seeking Redemption Challenge

- Winner -



The Stars Might Lie

By:
Michele Dutcher



The small hut went up like a torch within two seconds of Larry the Ogre placing a match to its thatched roof. As usual there was a ‘wow’ moment as the fire blazed high into the night sky and all the goblins cheered – except for Gerald of course. He stood facing the miserable human’s penned-in sheep, feverishly trying to count the shifting livestock.

“Hey! You goblins!” shouted a nearby dwarf. “Grab as many sheep as you can and carry them back to the castle.”

All the goblins did as ordered, mounting a sheep on each shoulder – all except for Gerald of course. He was busy multiplying the number of goblins times two and scribbling the result into his pocket notebook.

Donald the goblin seethed at him loudly: “Lucky, put that darn notebook back into your pocket and pick up a couple of sheep like the rest of us. You can’t afford to get in trouble again – not after that whole ‘These aren’t the druids you want’ debacle!”

Gerald picked up two ewes and hissed back: “That would never have happened if I had just asked for their Social Security numbers!”

“Their what?” asked Donald.

“Their Social Security numbers – an idea I’ve been playing with for giving every citizen of the kingdom a number when they’re born and…”

Donald fell in line behind seven other goblins and Gerald got in line behind him.

“Lucky. I hate it when they call me Lucky,” he muttered, knowing he’d get a whack on the back from the gatekeeper for being the last one through the gate again.

Later, back at the castle, Gerald dropped off his sheep, counted the ones in the pen, and then went walking through the market place. He happened past the open door of the mail office and noticed the troll behind the desk accept three stamps to send a scroll to the next kingdom.

“Are you certain that’s enough postage to get the message to Dwarfinburg?” asked the King’s knight.

“Of course – I send all the scrolls out with three stamps –no matter how much they weigh or how far they go,” said the mail-troll.

Gerald took out his pocket notebook and scribbled down a tiny note.
****
The next morning it was time for all to grovel before the Dark Lord King and give an accounting of themselves.

“Hear ye, hear ye. All those having business with his highness the Dark Lord step forward,” announced a guard.

A knight came forward, approaching the throne while bowing. “My Darkest Lord, we have yet to hear from the Western Lands. I beg your permission to raze their castles to the ground because of their insolence in not returning your summons.”

“Really?” asked the king weakly. “My favorite brother is the ruler there. I hope it doesn’t need to come to that.”

Gerald crawled over to the throne. “My Deepest apologies, but perhaps I might have a moment…”

The king and all the court laughed at the tiny goblin. “What is your name gremlin?”

Gerald grimaced at the whole ‘gremlin’ thing. “My name is Gerald.”

“No, no, no…” said the king. “You’re Lucky aren’t you?”

“Yes, your darkest highness…Lucky.”

“These aren’t the Druids you’re looking for...” shouted the king, laughing.

“Your highness,” Gerald replied - taking out his pocket notebook, “it seems that all mail is being sent out at 3 postage stamps regardless of how much it weighs or how far it goes. However, a scroll sent to another kingdom automatically kicks over to 6 stamps. So your brother may never have received your message because of postage due.”

“Then I don’t need to kill my brother? I can just send out scrolls with appropriate postage?” His royal emptiness thought for a moment before saying, “I like this little troll. Someone get him a pillow to sit here, beside me, on the step.”

So Gerald sat on a pillow as a knight came forward. “Your Cruelest Majesty, the troops were planning to attack the village McKenna on the 21st of this past month but by the time our battering rams and catapults arrived, the town had already been pillaged by another king’s warriors.

His Grand Nastiness was obviously agitated. “What do you think, little gremlin?”

“I think that if you want to be sure your shipment of armaments get someplace on time; send them near their destination one day early. That way the United Pillage Service will be certain your weapons are there, ready for your Knights when they arrive.”

“Great idea little elf!” shouted the king. “Someone get Lucky a drumstick,” shouted the king.

“Next!” yelled the guard.

Three ogres shuffled forward. “My king, we have been plundering the countryside of cattle, stealing helpless wenches – all to increase your coffers and your herds.”

“Ogre Curly – How many sheep did you bring in?” asked the king.

“Some,” answered Curly sheepishly.

“Ogre Larry – How many sheep for you?”

“More,” answered Larry.

“Well ‘more’ is certainly greater than ‘some’,” said the king. “Ogre Mo – how many for you then?”

“A lot,” he answered.

“Well ‘a lot’ is certainly greater than either ‘some’ or ‘more’. Kill Larry and Curly.”

There was a cry of distress as the two ogres were grabbed by eager hands. The king’s eyes drifted over to the tiny gremlin, errr – goblin. Lucky flipped open his notebook.

“Well, in truth your royal viciousness, Curley confiscated 10 sheep, Larry brought in 8, and Mo pillaged 15 – but had 7 put into his herd on the way to the castle.”

Mo started shaking but Larry and Curley were ecstatic, placing the tiny Goblin on their shoulders in triumph.

“This day a new kind of hero has been born!” proclaimed the king. “All hail Lucky the elf, ruler of all numbers everywhere!”

“I am Lucky!” shouted Gerald. “And the saying is true: The druids might lie but the numbers never do.”


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Post July 04, 2012, 02:30:33 PM

Murder Most Foul

The challenge was to put a human detective on the murder case of the nefarious, bird-like alien Skekko.
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Post July 04, 2012, 02:32:44 PM

Murder Most Foul

Fox in the Henhouse

By:
McCamy Taylor



Woke with a head like a level five meltdown, shirt front plastered with dried vomit, phone going off in my ear.

“Wassup?” I mumbled. Did not give a rat’s ass who was on the other end of the line, just wanted the noise to stop. Voice activated piece of Sony crap. Hell is a place where your implanted phone keeps ringing forever, and you’re wearing a straitjacket and a ball gag.

“Chin? That you?”

It was my partner, Ramirez. “Who else would it be? Goddamn phone’s inside my head.”

“You need to get out of there. Fast.”

I peered down, trying to focus on the crusted, partially digested food matter that covered my shirt. Were those sesame seeds? Now I remembered! Skekko took me out for supper last night. Some Bird place where every other dish was nuts and seeds, and the hot spices were off the chart. Bartender kept pouring the beer, and I kept downing it in a futile attempt to cool off my tongue.

Tongue was not the only thing that needed cooling. Damn, that Skekko was hot! Legs up to here, soft white feathers barely covering her body, breasts practically on a platter.

“Chin!” my partner was yelling at me now. “You need to get out of there. Now!. Fernandez is on the way. Got reporters with him. DA wants live feed of you doing the perp walk.”

“Perp walk? What for?” I mentally reviewed my list of sins. I was no dirtier than any other cop in Houston. Why was Fox Fernandez after me? “What did I do?”

“Remember that ambrosia runner? Skekko? The one you got cozy with when you were undercover? She’s dead.”

Took a second for his words to register. When they did, I sank to my knees on the floor. Last night, Skekko had asked for my help. Said someone wanted her dead.

“Chin?”

“How did she die?”

“Bullet through the brain. They found your gun at the crime scene.”

I reached into my pocket. My weapon was gone. Someone had lifted it. Holy Buddha! I had been framed! With one hand, I tore off my vomit encrusted shirt. The other was on the knob of the door. Made it out of there and around the corner into the back alley just as the patrol car rounded the corner, sirens blaring, news vans following like elephants in a circus parade.

Grabbed a blue denim coverall from the clothes line in the neighbor’s yard. Sprinted to the monorail station. As I waited to board the next train, I remembered that my implanted phone had a GPS. Ducked into the men’s room. Using my house key, I pried the phone out from behind my ear. Wound bled like stink. I wadded up some paper towels to staunch the flow of blood. Back on the platform, I slipped the tiny cellphone into the purse of a woman carrying suitcases. Heading for the airport, I hoped. Ran like the hounds of hell were after me. Grabbed a cab and told the driver “Police Headquarters.”

No, I was not suicidal. I knew something that would tell who the real killer was. But I had to get to the morgue before the coroner completed her examination and released the body back to the family. Bullet to the head was usually pretty cut and dried. Would take her two, three hours max to get the evidence Fox needed to convict me, and then Skekko’s clan would be clamoring for her corpse. The Birds came from a planet with an eighteen hour day. They believed that if their loved ones were not cremated within eighteen hours after death, they could not fly to heaven.

Poor Skekko. She had lied to me more times than I cared to remember. She sold ambrosia to kids. But she did not deserve to die.

I bought a mop and a bucket with cash at the hardware store across the street from police HQ. In my blue denim coverall, I was just one more Vietnamese janitor. Once inside headquarters, I headed for the third floor. Most places kept the morgue in the basement, but basements tended to flood in Houston.

Caught the coroner, Gideon just as she was taking off her gloves. Middle aged woman with greying blonde hair. Friend of my father’s. Close friend. Her eyes widened behind her wire rimmed glasses.

“Chin! They’re looking for you.”

No time for formalities. “Did you pluck the corpse?”

“Pluck the corpse?” she echoed. “No need. It’s obvious what killed her.”

“Birds molt every summer. When they do, they get tattoos. Skekko was having an affair with a married man. A politician. Told me about it last night. Said she was afraid her new lover wanted her out of the way before the next election. Said if anything happened to her pluck the feathers from her right breast. She has his name tattooed there.”

I have seen plenty of disturbing things in my life, but watching Gideon remove the feathers from Skekko’s chest almost made me throw up. Finally, it was done. The coroner gasped. There, on the Bird woman’s right breast was a heart with the words Skekko Clouddiver and Fox Fernandez Forever.
Fernandez was the DA. Son of a bitch had killed Skekko and framed me for her murder.

Gideon’s eyes met mine. “I knew this one smelled fishy. You have an alibi?”

“No. Fox have a witness?”

“No. Just the gun and the bullet.” Carefully, she opened a specimen container and tipped it over. A bullet fell down the drain. “Damn. I was supposed to send that to forensics.” She grabbed a camera and began taking pics of Skekko’s chest.

By evening, the photos were all over the net. Best headline was on BBC. Fox in the Henhouse. There was no hard evidence against him, but by morning, the DA had been found guilty in the court of public opinion, the only one that counted.


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Post July 04, 2012, 02:34:44 PM

Murder Most Foul

Birds Of A Feather

By:
Bill Wolfe



Skekko was dead, alright. Looked like someone had shot her right in the translator she had implanted in her chest. Dunno what the power source for that thing was, but the bullet had fried it. Her office smelled like burnt wire, used motor oil. . .and The Colonel’s finest.

The Coroner raised one side of his unibrow at my reaction. “So Detective, can you positively ID the deceased? I know you and the Harpy go back a ways.”

“Yes and no, I suppose.” It wasn’t the best answer, but it was all I had. Her plumage patterns are different in every mugshot we have of her. Her translator could sound like anything she chose, and she changed it depending on the situation. She usually used a Bronx toughguy ‘voice’ with me, but she used her scared little girl ‘voice’ that one time she went to court. Some of the jury bought it, apparently.

“We’re going to have to use a DNA match from the feather we found on the bootlegging case to be positive, but I’m pretty sure it’s her. Besides, far as I know she’s the only Harpy in town.”

“Good enough for me, Joe. I’m done. You can let CSU loose in here, now.” He looked down at the body and inhaled, deeply. “I’m suddenly in the mood for chicken.”

I didn’t blame him. I was thinking the same thing.

“Okay people,” I motioned to the Tyvek-suited CSU cadre staged just outside the office. “I figure we have a day, at most, before IA swoops in and takes over. This is still our case and if we can get this solved before Interspecies Affairs claims jurisdiction, they won’t squawk too much. Make sure you get the computer and everything that looks like a business record. Skekko had her talons in a lot of pies. Maybe we’ll find some motive, there.”

You don’t need a warrant to search a murder scene.

I was about to leave them to it, and go find a chicken sandwich when the computer guy called-out. "Hey Joe! I guess Big Bird here was on the computer when she got smoked. This thing ain't even locked-out. As far as I can tell, it's wide open!"

One VERY busy week later. . . .

Here’s the scene: We’re sitting around the biggest conference room at Police Plaza. There’s me, the Chief of D’s, The DA, my Captain, our computer Geek. . . .and four Suits.

Our Geek leads-off: “We had to bring Langley in on this because Skekko’s computer was one-of-a-kind. It’s the best that can be bought on the intergalactic market. Almost a quadrillion teraflops of data on there and the disk shows four-percent capacity. Plus, it’s configured for human-tech interface. Nothing like it on the planet.”

Suit Two: “Most of this is Classified, but I can tell you that if this thing had been locked, we couldn’t even crack the Screen Saver! The Company is very interested in acquiring this device.

Chief of D’s: “My understanding is that the Department is funded for the next Century if this happens. Do you get my meaning, Detective?”

“Understood, Sir.” What else could I say?

The DA: “Regardless of the value of the computer, the evidence on it will put away virtually every criminal in this city. . .plus some corrupt police, two judges and one of my Assistants. This Skekko had files on all her illegal activities. Very comprehensive files, at that. These recordings make documented video look like a stone tablet found buried in the sand.”


Suit One: “Jones from Interspecies Affairs. Skekko’s next of kin is waiting outside. My understanding is that there were a lot of legitimate businesses that were left behind. It’s been agreed that we can keep the computer and the evidence if we turn-over the legal stuff and all the records to. . .uh. . . .Spek. That’s her name, Spek. The Harpies have some convoluted inheritance laws, but apparently this is legit. Spek is just anxious to make sure that Skekko’s business doesn’t suffer.”

“Sounds cozy,” I was trying not to sound condescending. “So what do you need from me?”

Suit Four: “We need you to release some of the evidence and the crime scene, Detective. You can continue to investigate who murdered Skekko, but the computer goes to the CIA, and the legal business records are turned-over to Spek.”

“We’re done with the office, but we don’t release the computer until we download a copy of everything on it.”

Geek: “You don’t understand. We don’t have the capacity to store that much data.”

“I’m sure our new Langley friends can get us a system that will handle it.” I saw the Chief smile. He could smell his budget growing.

There were nods all around. Suit Four—must be Spek’s lawyer—opened the door and in walked. . . .Skekko!

“Well. . .I’ll be a bird brain.” I’m not sure what I meant, but that’s what came out. They all look alike to me didn’t do this justice. If I hadn’t seen Skekko dead with my own eyes. . . .

“Oh no, old Chap.” The Translator sounded like some male character in an old British movie. “I’m quite sure you’re the sentient one from your clutch.”

The Interspecies Affairs guy piped-up. “Harpies lay twelve genetically identical eggs, but only one of them is sentient. The eleven others were originally a food source for the intelligent one. They call them Bird Brains because they have the approximate intellect of an ostrich.”

It took me a second, but a nasty thought occurred. “So. . .Spek, I guess that Skekko left you in an interesting position. Several legitimate and legal businesses, and all the competition for the illegal stuff either in jail, or on the run. That sound about right?”

“Indeed, my good fellow. Completely serendipitous, of course. Good day to you, Detective.”

She glanced back just before she left, and I swear the Old Bird winked at me.


The End
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