The Flash Fiction Fishbowl is a periodic event without firm schedule during which I invite people to give me prompts. I'll use those prompts as inspiration for writing flash fiction.
Flash Fiction, also known as micro fiction or short short stories, are quick reading each, since they're at most 1000 words long.
A prompt can for example be a keyword, a phrase, a question, an image, a random real-world or made-up fact, or a what-if question. Asking for a continuation of an older story of mine is also possible. Each Fishbowl will have an optional theme, which might help with coming up with prompt ideas, but is also open to general prompts.
[node:4407,title="The last Fishbowl had the theme Law and Order"]
If you'd like more information about the general structure of a Fishbowl, read on.
I try to write each story self-contained in 100-300 words, but they often turn out longer, occasionally shorter, and sometims more open-ended than other times.
The result likely won't be exactly one story per person, since several prompts may combine to form one story idea, but I will do my best to use at least one prompt from each participant.
I will not write erotica or fanfiction. If I find myself absolutely out of ideas with the prompts someone left, I may ask for new prompts.
If I used one of your prompts in a story, I will share that story with you privately (via email, or the internal messaging system of whatever site you left your comment at.) In addition tips will sponsor more stories that go public immediately. Remaining works will go into a pool from which I publish one random story for free each Friday, but stories can also be sponsored to go public immediately. Exceptions will be stories I might want to submit elsewhere.
I accept tips, which come with individual and collective perks. I'm still experimenting, so they change a bit each time. If someone has an idea for a perk, don't hesitate to suggest it for the next round.
Anybody who tips will receive a link to a document with all unpublished stories from the Fishbowl they tipped for. They can also decide which story or stories of those they want to sponsor with their tip.
Anybody who tipped "blind" may pick at least one story based on a prompt they left, regardless of wordcount. (So if you tip $3, but a story I write for you is so long I'd ask for $8 to sponsor it, you can still have it go public.)
Alternatively they may chose to sponsor other stories. If someone leaves a tip that covers more words than the stories written for them have, they can put the remainder towards another story.
If someone doesn't want to chose, that's fine, too, and the tip goes to a general pot. I'll make sure at the end at least 400 words per $10 donated go public.
The [node:4407,title="prompt call"] went up on the 15th February and closed on the 23rd.
I received prompts from 15 people, meaning there'll be a bonus short story. I'll take soundings what people'd be most interested in soon.
There've been 16 linkbacks (+5 on stories). Consider the [node:4415, title="Emergent landing page"] a down payment on the promised setting notes.
I received $20 in tips, so there will be a basic ebook of the resulting stories, given to all donators and prompters.
A werewolf remembers the day the rather peculiar law mentioned in [node:4398] was passed.
Based on the prompt "Laws governing lycanthropes (like in that story where they couldn't hunt her once the moon changed), particularly their origins" by Clare K. R. Miller.
<300 words, public since 16 Feb, 2012
A cop who got into that line of work before supernatural happenings became part of the consensus reality has trouble adjusting.
Inspired by the prompt "A cop who keeps encountering preternatural creatures and incidents that make it harder and harder for him to do things 'by the book,' which he wants to do" by Elisabeth Barette AKA ysabetwordsmith. (Though I suspect it ran a bit away from the prompt.)
<400 words, sponsored by Tango, public since 20 Feb, 2012
Frustration when you're 20, look 10, and are addicted to nicotine.
Inspired by the prompts "Is it okay to sell cigarettes and alcohol to a hundred-year-old vampire in the body of an eight-year-old?" by Tango and "Moral versus legal" by Ellen Million
<250 words, partially sponsored by Tango, public since 24 Feb, 2012
When a serial killer can bind ghosts, their victims may suffer even after their deaths.
Inspired by the prompts "Invisible witnesses" and "Crimes against ghosts and spectres" by Tango.
<200 words, public since 2 Mar, 2012
A girl suddenly has serious trouble concentrating on anything.
Based on the prompt "Whim and Chaos" by Deirdre M. Murphy
<300 words, public since 9 Mar, 2012
Inspired by the prompts "A species of animal is ruled legally sapient and subject to protection - and prosecution - under human law" which he wants to do" by Herm Baskerville and "The magpie in the tree" by TJK
150 words, public since 17 Mar, 2012
Identity theft in a setting where transferring a brain to a new body is routine. (Same setting as [node:3989])
The title was a prompt by Becca Stareyes.
<300 words, public since 11 May 2012
War made a mistake, and has to get Law back from Death.
Inspired by the prompt "I fought the law and it was a bad idea" by Becky Allen
<300 words, public since 31 May, 2012
When two tribes merge, maybe agreeing on laws beforehand might be a good idea.
Inspired by the prompts "A new colony/landing place/town/something begins building laws" by Lyn Thorne-Alder and "Desert-born mystics writing their holy book deciding on Ten Commandments" by Herm Baskerville
<200 words, public since 22 June, 2012
Problems with a theft on a train crossing an international border.
Inspired by the prompts "When the laws become disorder" by Lyn Thorne-Alder, "Law is not order" by Rix Scaedu and "Bloody Cops" by Eliza Gebow
<350 words, sponsored by Lyn Thorne-Alder, public since 25 June, 2012
Inspired by the prompt "What about the rights of people who *don't* change in a world were were-_____ people have been the majority for most of recorded history?" by LilFluff
<250 words, public since 22 June, 2012
Based on the prompt "How does a vampire cop serve a warrant, if he has to be invited into a home?" by Royce Day
200 words, can be sponsored for $4
Rosy Neighbourhood Relations
Getting the law involved with neighbourhood squabbles.
Based on the prompt "Law and Order, the unnatural forces" by Rix_Scaedu
<300 words, can be sponsored for $6
Lost in the Library
Sort of a sequel to "Scatterbrained"
<350 words, can be sponsored for $7
Fran wished there was more to the stories of poltergeists, if she had to be not-quite-dead-enough. No moving of objects or whispering of threats for her. Richards might feel her touch, but she had tried only once. He had looked up with a grin splitting his face, revelling in her powerlessness, and finished strangling his next victim.
A lock of the boy’s hair had gone into an old paint can and up on a shelf right under the low ceiling of Richards’ shack. He was not the last.
Turning her attention inward hardly shielded her from those scenes; her sight and hearing were not bound to eyes and ears anymore, and she could feel the fear and pain running through her like a current. She did not even have the solace of company in this prison. Judging from Richards’ occasional bows and thank-yous to the “loge of spectators”, there were indeed several ghosts, but Fran found no way for them to communicate.
All she had was a vague sense of their presence, which might have been her imagination. That, and what Richards called his shows, which, death by death, chipped away at her sanity.
Inspired by the prompts "Invisible witnesses" and "Crimes against ghosts and spectres" by Tango
Not for the first time Arrash wished his clan had arrived in the valley before the Gelloh. If his clan had been holding the high ground, the smaller group would just have joined them; now they all had to negotiate merging the two decimated clans.
Writing common laws up front was certainly wise, but getting the elders of both clans to agree was difficult. Particularly Arrash’s oldest clan father, more than half living in the past instead of the present, caused friction.
“A wife shall obey her husband in all matters,” he suggested.
“I think not.” The Gelloh matriarch gave him a dry look.
“You shall obey and respect your elders, for they draw wisdom from the deep well of their lifetime,” Arrash quoted one of their own commandments solemnly.
The matriarch’s face hardly changed, but Arrash thought there was an amused glint in her wrinkle-framed eyes when she looked at him. The muttering around the room sounded, for once, mostly approving. Maybe they had a second law.
The only one they had agreed on so far was, “You shall not waste water.”
Inspired by the prompts "A new colony/landing place/town/something begins building laws" by Lyn Thorne-Alder and "Desert-born mystics writing their holy book deciding on Ten Commandments" by Herm Baskerville
The shopkeeper shook her head again.
Trying to keep control of her temper, Juno tapped her driver’s license lying on the countertop hard. “This is no fake,” she hissed, waving at the yellowed newspaper clippings about her death and recovery ten years ago she had produced as corroborative evidence. “If the state thought my actual rather than apparent age determined if I was allowed to drive a car, don’t you think the same should apply to other age limits?”
“I’m sorry, hon, it’s not that I don’t believe you—” her eyes flicked to a photo in the clippings, which was still accurate apart from the haircut “—but it would be just not right. Kids thinking you were their age seeing you smoke, what kind of example would that be?”
Behind the concerned face Juno saw a smug presumption of moral perfection. It made her want to break something, by preference the woman’s neck. After taking a few breaths to calm down, she collected her papers, by necessity slowly. Her fingers shook both with anger and withdrawal, and she did not want to damage the old newsprint further.
When the woman started another apology, Juno cut her off with “Fuck ‘think of the children’,” and stalked out of the little corner shop. The third attempt today. She never would have thought that the cashier at her usual shop quitting would cause that many problems. He had had no compunctions about selling cigs to someone who looked like she was ten.
Partially sponsored by Tango
“I’m afraid if it was a copy of The Good Book, chances of getting the matter resolved are close to zero.”
Basil covered his mouth with a hand and gnashed his teeth. The alternative was yelling at a cop, which seemed unwise if you wanted her help. After a calming breath he said, “Look, it was theft, and it was right at the train entrance, so RepRail must have security footage. The on-board security said I should check with the station police, the station police referred me to border guard… Feels like I’m getting further away from a resolution. Who do I have to talk to to get things going before the footage gets deleted?”
The officer did look sympathetic, but that didn’t bring back that brand-new limited edition with illustrations by C. Cidrain. She sighed. “Since the theft was on Republic soil, you’d have to report it to their authorities. But you said you aren’t initiated, and they have exceptions to property law there regarding unbelievers owning items such as holy scripture.”
“Wait, wait, wasn’t that got rid of in the free trade agreement last year?”
“Officially. But I’ve seen some similar cases, and they were all wrapped up in red tape like a mountain mummy until the victim gave up, or until Republic authorities found some technicality or other loophole to throw them out.”
Basil vented some curses. “And the seller never asked about my religion.”
“They like money. Sometimes I wonder if some of them work together with thieves and buy back and resell.
“I’ll give you contact information, and you can try to get it pursued. If you know which number of that collector’s edition you had, maybe that gives you a bit more leverage than usual. I wish you good luck, but don’t get your hopes up too much. Sorry.”
Shortly he stomped off, carrying home a slim leaflet instead of the precious book he’d paid for.
Standing pointedly inside his door, the suspect grinned. “No, you can not come in, warrant or no!”
Jenna took a breath, meaning to answer that. The door slammed shut in her face, so she sighed instead. From his criminal record including activity in an anti-supernaturals group a decade ago, neither his recognising her as a vampire nor his reaction came as a surprise. Still, it was annoying in its pettiness and shortsightedness.
Usually she would be partnered with someone who did not require invitation, but there had been some roster-shuffling tonight, leaving the pair of vampires the option to watch the house to keep him from running and call for reinforcements. To arrest one unarmed little loser with a habit of blogging rants against supernaturals while drunk. Embarrassing.
While she walked back to the squad car, a grin spread across her face. She had foreseen trouble like that, and both brought the right equipment and made sure with the chief that she could use it.
She hefted the sledgehammer and stalked back to the house. Invitations were required to cross a threshold, true. But it had turned out that if you removed the entire wall, the problem disappeared.
Inspired by the prompt "How does a vampire cop serve a warrant, if he has to be invited into a home?" by Royce Day
"Deliberate entry" is the name of an existing SWAT tactic. This is not it. Dynamic entry versus deliberate entry at policeone.com
Don’t you hate it when you sit in your favourite bar and just want a drink and some quiet and someone asks “what’s up?” Fred was just the type to do that to me, and yesterday she followed it up with “Are you still chewing on that self-defence overkill thing from last week?”
“Nah, that’s up to the courts now.” I would rather not have thought about that one again. Imagine you come to a scene with one person with several broken bones, and another calmly waiting for the police, that is, me. There’s way worse, sure, but it’s damn creepy when the person waiting is full of bullet holes. Did they have to fold up a human to suitcase-size, if they don’t mind being shot?
“So what’s new?”
“I’ll quit.” Hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that.
“I just can’t take it anymore. There’s those freaks you can’t stop. How do you put handcuffs on a ghost? I saw one shove a person out of a window today. Right in front of me. Couldn’t do a thing.” And it knew exactly what it was doing, giving me a grin and a wave before floating through a wall.
That at least shut her up for a short while, but she started up again. “Still, most cases are normal crimes, nothing but regular humans.”
“Doesn’t feel like it, lately.”
Fred shrugged. “A blip in the statistics. Don’t rush things.”
I snorted. “If at least there wasn’t that much up in the air with civil rights for those freaks. There’s your problem right there. Call them human rights like you should, and it all becomes easier.”
Fred pulled a face. Her problem, she’d started the conversation.
I picked up my half-empty glass of beer again, and she kept staring at me while I drank, which got on my nerves. “What’s up with you now?”
“Just wondering if it’d make sense for you to join that new unit for supernatural crimes.”
“And handle more of that shit? Are you crazy?”
“They are looking into ways to neutralise, ah, unusual threats, and are bound to be the best informed on the general topic of all of us.”
Put like that it wasn’t that far-fetched. Still disgusting. Fred raised her hands, “Just a thought.”
“I’ll think about it.”
I’m still thinking.
Inspired by the prompt "A cop who keeps encountering preternatural creatures and incidents that make it harder and harder for him to do things "by the book," which he wants to do." by Elizabeth Barette aka ysabetwordsmith.
Sponsored by Tango
The Republic had decided the “werewolf” question. Reading the detailed account in the paper did not make me feel any less disgusted than the short version on the radio had.
How many of the people actually affected had the lawmakers listened to before signing their names to that bill? Three? Well, they had talked to three, but they obviously had not listened. Must have been hard to hear about the media clamour, granted. That rampage in Mearen apparently had been too good for sales to pass up.
Following a morbid impulse I looked up some websites of sensationalist papers. Yep, right there was the rant about the pressure from the League of Nations that had led to that ridiculous “compromise” of classifying werewolves and similar shapechangers as animals for two weeks a month. Only.
At least nobody in my town knew I was one of Them. That tiny taste of it-could-have-been-worse turned sour when I came across the “perfidy of monsters hiding among us, ready to strike”. The rag had been crass enough to use a scene-of-crime photo of one of the Mearen victims at the end of the column. A young girl, I didn’t look too closely. Even a publicity still from Blood Moon Hunters or a similar pre-emergence horror flick would have been in better taste, and consistent with their habits.
I feared meeting people I knew. Who would be overjoyed being within their rights to shoot someone like me dead on sight in the right half of the month? For a long moment I considered looking into emigrating, but for all I knew it was only better on paper elsewhere. And I had to get ready for work, anyway.
Based on the prompt "Laws governing lycanthropes (like in [node:4398,title="that story where they couldn't hunt her once the moon changed"]), particularly their origins" by Clare K. R. Miller
When I woke up in what laid claim to the lofty label of “clinic”, I took it slow. The nerves of the used-new body needed a little time and practise to work together well with my old brain. When the pins-and-needles feeling crested, I started wiggling my fingers and toes. Working up from there, I met no problems. At some point my doctor-technician arrived, but she didn’t rush me. I paid her enough.
The new body was a pretty standard model, outwardly human, black hair and almond eyes. Shorter than my old one, I was reminded when sitting up on the edge of the bed left my feet dangling high in the air, but I’d get used to it. I liked the point symmetry of the ID that came with it, the main components swashes over the left temple and right jaw. I rubbed over those lines, even though the skin there did not feel different, which prompted the doc to ask a question.
“Want to test yourself if the re-keying worked?” the doc said.
I shook my head. “I trust you.” Close enough, anyway. And if she wanted to fool me, she could have rigged the test equipment.
“Thanks. We had no problems with the other brain, either. Everything as you requested.” Keyed to my old ID, transplanted to my old body, motor functions disabled.
“Very good.” I would arrange an accident. With just a little more record-cooking, I would be dead.
A completely different man with no family and friends, whose social anxiety had got so bad he had even stopped seeing his shrink, would start over. Background like that is why you pick a mark. The nice ID was just a bonus.
The title was a prompt by Becca Stareyes
“When I was a kid, we could still shoot them,” the cop said.
Mira just gave a noncommittal hum and continued her work.
“Thieving little bastards.”
This case was about a diamond bracelet, but still, it was a generalisation.
“I mean, they’re pests, everybody knows that. No matter how smart they are. Eat songbird chicks.”
The magpie struggled as Mira transferred it from the big trap to a smaller transport box. Neither agreeing nor arguing worked as she’d intended; the cop calmed down and got back to business, adsressing the bird.
“You are being arrested on suspicion of grand theft. A lawyer will be provided to you, given that it’s unlikely you have one.”
Mira chuckled. His half irritated, half worried look she answered with, “Close enough to by the book if you ask me. No complaints.”
“Good. Thanks for your help. I just hope we got the right one this time.”
I couldn’t listen to Jelena planning to push for prosecution for long; it was too painful. “Please just let it lie.”
She skewered me with a look as if I had been the one who’d killed her brother. “Instincts or not, they are still bound by laws. He was murdered, and no-one’s interested!”
“Jelena, I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. Pushing will do no good. You know what’ll happen? They’ll point out he went drinking and stayed out too late. They’ll say he should have been at home that night, or at the very least gone by car, not on foot. They’ll say he must have been pulling tails or picking fights, call him a troublemaker.”
I’d talked myself into a rage, too, and bit my tongue on it, turning away from Jelena’s wide, scared, and still furious eyes.
She said, slowly, “He did not—”
“I know. I know. I’m sorry.” I knew how it hurt, and I didn’t want her to go through the same. “I hate it, too, but that’s how it works. What people who knew him say doesn’t matter to most officers, or attorneys, or judges—or reporters, for that matter. What those that count will say is, a monomorph going out on full moon nights is asking for trouble.” Maybe my words were swaying her, or maybe not. Considering that it was her life… “Just think carefully about what you would be going into before deciding, all right?”
Inspired by the prompt "What about the rights of people who *don't* change in a world were were-_____ people have been the majority for most of recorded history?" by LilFluff
This takes place after [node:4416], but should stand on its own, too, as flash goes.
The girl pausing to look at the old council hall clockwork ticking away in its glass case caught the librarian’s eye—her signal orange cycling helmet was hard to miss. After a few seconds of looking around and flicking the leaves of the green plants around the reading corner, she started prowling the shelves.
It was almost half an hour later when the librarian spotted her again, helmet still clinging to her head. The girl bit her lip and looked around, nervous and confused, so the librarian walked up to her.
“Hello. Can I help you?”
“There are too many things.”
The librarian frowned when she saw that there was a book lying on the sisal carpeting in the corridor the girl had come from.
“What are you looking for?”
The girl turned her head from side to side a few times, face screwing up to a distressed grimace. “I forgot.”
“Now, don’t worry…” The librarian trailed off.
The girl had raised her hands to wipe her eyes, and looked at them in wonder. “LIBRARY” was scrawled in big letters across the back of her left wrist and hand. The child looked at her palms. The left said “Do not forget: Go to the LIBRARY.” The right palm was more puzzling. She twisted her hand around, as if to see if the writing was upside down, but got distracted, ending up looking over her right shoulder towards the shaft of light leading up to the skylight over the stairwell, and holding her right hand loosely in front of her, palm up.
The librarian leaned forward and tried to read the scrawl, but couldn’t decypher it. “Are you all right? Would you like to phone home?”
“I, no? I know the way. Yes, I do.”
Her puzzled frown turned into a wide grin when she glanced at her right hand again. “Oh, ANGEL!”
“Yes, I think my angel is in trouble, it’s why I forget stuff and can’t sit still! Can you help me?”
Written by request of Lyn Thorne-Alder
Out in his front garden, Val ignored both the police officer who had handed him the injunction, and his neighbour, who had to be responsible for it.
Eyes flying over the paper, he muttered, “Vandalism? Ridiculous! What am I supposed to do, build a hermetically sealed greenhouse?”
He only realised he’d spoken alound when his neighbour said, “Don’t forget to get a construction permit. And don’t expect me to agree if it casts a shadow on my garden.”
“Maybe you could switch to plants Mrs Friend is not breeding?” the officer suggested.
Val let go a breath that would have turned into a rant. Don’t shoot the messenger. “Thank you. I’ll consider it.” Scanning the document for a due date, he found that it came into effect immediately. Of course.
His rose bushes were doing rather well, for plants cheaply bought at discounters over the years. They ringed the small garden, alternating between yellow, red, and yellow-with-red-edged-petals, most now hip-high and in full bloom thanks to Val’s care.
With a sigh he told the officer, “I’ll cut off the blooms and buds today. That should stop the cross-pollination for now, and leaves me more options than destroying the plants entirely.”
“Thanks for your cooperation.”
Later, Val paused in beheading his own flowers for a look at his neighbours’. Those had fewer blooms, since for breeding new varieties she let them go to seeds rather than removing anything that started wilting. He bowed his head back over his work to hide a smile. Fantasy or not, the thought of poaching for some really fancy rose hip tea cheered him up a little.
Inspired by the prompt "Law and Order, the unnatural forces" by rix-scaedu.
Kay knew she irritated people with things like drumming her fingers and jittering. She had not been that nervous and distractable last year, but could not go back. Teachers gave up after a few weeks and just lived with her looking out of the window rather than following class whenever she felt like it. Until, that is, she got up in the middle of a test and walked outside to better watch squirrels, leaving behind a sheet covered with doodled flowers rather than answers.
The school called her parents, and her mother gave her a dressing-down. Kay tried to listen, because not doing so would make her mother more angry, but instead kicked her feet and watched the patterns the light made on the floor and walls.
“Oh, Kay, what’s gotten into you?”
The girl only shrugged, “I had to go out.” She was close to tears, not understanding herself.
“Maybe her angel is sick,” came a small voice from the door.
Their mother took a deep breath and tried to calm down. “Honey, angels and demons are just stories. And eavesdropping is not nice.”
Kay’s little sister looked confused. “But Mattis said—”
Your demon gave you ideas, and your angel helped you stick with one. Kay had heard the same; everyone had.
While Mother shooed her to the kids’ room, Kay spun ideas. Maybe she had to find her angel and save it. Or talk to her demon. It was still with her, and might know something. Only she did not know how. Maybe she should go—
“I need to make some phone-calls. We should go see doctor Hames soon.”
Kay nodded. Doctor Hames was all right.
“Go and get started on your homework, honey. I’ll help you when I’m finished.”
Inspired by the prompt "Whim and Chaos" by Deirdre M. Murphy
Death herself met me at her gate. She did not say anything, just crossed her arms and glared. I would have liked to cut the old crone to pieces right then and there, but kept my cool. She makes her own rules in her realm.
“Look, I still don’t think that fighting Law was a bad idea, OK?” Her brainchildren, particularly peace treaties, had ruined a lot of my work.
Death’s eyebrows went up and she tilted her head a little. At least she did not start tapping her foot.
“But, in hindsight, I’m afraid, in a way… killing her turned out, eventually, to be a mistake.” When all humans stopped pretending to humour those pesky international laws, conflicts had become much more interesting. But after things went on for a while like that, there weren’t enough humans left to wage a good war anymore.
Finally Death opened her mouth. “So you’re here to ask me to break the law, on behalf of Law, to bring her back to the world.” I swear to anything you want she was amused.
“Is that a problem?”
“She might refuse, on principle.”
Yes, now that she mentioned it, Law might be stupid like that. I covered my eyes, wondering how long it would take to build up a new civilisation capable of building weapons of mass destruction. Particularly with Law missing. She had been more important than I’d realised, the surge of mutinies had shown.
“But,” Death said, “I might throw her out regardless. Let’s have some tea and discuss terms.”
She was enjoying this too much to be bluffing. And that, folks, is why it’s important being able to mind your manners: sometimes you have to.
Inspired by the prompt "I fought the law and it was a bad idea" by Becky Allen
Twelve people left prompts this fishbowl, two more than in the first attempt.
I've finished 16 pieces of flash fiction, with a total wordcount of about 5800 (including one story that isn't flash fiction anymore, but cracked 1000 words).
Total tips received were high enough for an ebook, which has been assembled; I'm currently looking into getting it proofread.
Antiques - 432 words (went live Dec. 16)
Prompt by Lindsay B.: "An 1800s surgical kit (pic: http://boingboing.net/2009/05/20/1800s-surgical-kit-u.html)"
Persistent Growth - 267 words (went live Dec. 16)
Combines the prompts "Growth" by Eliza and "Spooky plants" Ellen Million.
Appliance Psychic - 430 words (went live Dec. 17)
Prompt by Becky: "the toaster becomes sentinent"
Designer Virus - 367 words (went live Dec. 18)
Prompt by Mayfly: "Undead cattle"
Grave Light - 360 words (went live Dec. 23)
Prompt by Robert S.: "The sun is gone, the dark forces have won and are ruling the lands. Magic is dangerous and usually ends up killing lots of people."
Lawyer Lunch - 100 words (went live Dec. 30)
Prompt by HM: "A cannibal serial killer murders and eats vampires"
ditto on the more of a joke
Rewarded - 200 words (went live Jan. 5)
Prompt by LilFluff: "A human key to allowing werewolves, vampires, and other fantasy monster types to go public is 'rewarded' after they go from hiding, to being in the open, to seizing control."
That which hides in light and song - 189 words (went live Jan. 8)
The title was a prompt by Tango.
All that glitters is not gold - 200 words (went live Jan. 8)
The title was a prompt by Tango.
Rewriting History - 369 words (went live Jan. 19)
Prompt by ysabetwordsmith: "What if elves were actually horrible, and orcs were decent, but the elves have better PR so they've just managed to convince people of the opposite?"
[node:4398] - 472 words (went live Jan 26)
Prompt by Eliza: "Waning moon"
Deals with werewolf hunting season.
Phantom Pains - 362 (went live Feb. 3)
The title (nearly) was a prompt by Eliza.
[node:4356] - 190 words (went live Feb. 10)
Prompt by rix_scaedu: "The fairy godparents aren't the nice sort of fairy."
[node:4422]!-everyday> - 100 words (went live May 18)
Prompt by aldersprig: "What frightens the monsters?"
More of a joke, really.
[node:4424]!-unfinished> - 367 words (went live June 8)
bonus story based on the origfic_bingo prompts "toys" and "ghosts / hauntings / afterlife", but fitting the theme
Recalled - 357 words (sponsor for $8)
Prompt by wyld_dandelyon: "a recall"
Haunted - 1061 words (not open for sponsorship at the moment)
prompt by clare_dragonfly: "The way the tree scraped against the house, it really sounded like it was doing it on purpose. But it couldn't be. Could it?"
“You don’t look happy.”
“And you know why. This is big. And messy. But mostly big.”
“Your first serial killer, eh?”
“That is the question, isn’t it?”
“She killed people and ate them. No wonder you’re losing your appetite.”
“Tch. Be serious, will you? Laws on murder predate the emergence of supernaturals. My client targeted vampires exclusively. They were already dead. That meets the definition of corpse mutilation.”
“Oh. Yes. Very messy… You might end up with being a vampire being a case of interfering with one’s own funeral...”
“The hell with it. It must be cleared up some time.”
Based on the prompt "A cannibal serial killer murders and eats vampires" by alternatesocks
Mary froze at the edge of the clearing. There really was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! Her bare feet slipped on damp leaves as she rushed towards the prize, until the ground gave way.
The pot hid the bottom of the pit with a dull thud close to her head, spilling its contents, big, glittering discs. “Fool’s gold”, she whispered, and unsteadily reached for the closest.
“Actual gold is quite useless, you know.”
She looked up at the gnome who was grinning down at her from the edge of the trap. “You sure like your jokes.”
“I like catching friends of shinies. You will be happy to mine them, yes?”
“You’re only coming out if you agree.” The gnome sounded like an older sister giving a toddler an ultimatum.
Mary snorted and stood up. Her hip hurt from the fall, but the pit couldn’t be that deep.
The moment she took a step towards its edge, the gnome lifted a gun she must have had next to her, and aimed it at Mary. Still grinning, still sounding cheerful, she said, “Or you come out dead. I am all kinds of hunter, you know.”
The title was a prompt by Tango
Bonus random fact: Pyrite was used to produce sparks at least in some wheel-lock guns.
Elke was not surprised when she spotted Regina at the flea market, only that Regina already seemed to be on the way out, a wooden box with brass fitting wedged under her arm and a self-satisfied smile spread across her face.
“Am I that late? You found something already?”
“Oh yes, I got lucky.” Regina looked Elke up and down. “If you just arrived, how about we meet next weekend?” Usually they went to have tea together if they found each other at a flea market, to show off whatever they had found. “There’s at least one stand with books that might interest you. And this will look better with a bit of polish.”
“All right.” Elke thought it unusual for Regina to not launch into a monologue about her purchase, but if the other woman wanted to make it a big surprise, why not?
Regina had an old house, and a parlour set aside for her favourite antique finds. Elke’s favourite piece was a gramophone. She had helped Regina carry home the box of cylinders that had come with it, years ago, and watched it set up for a test run. The hand-cranked miniature sewing machine was also nice, all polished, and Regina had used it to sew a little quilt tablecloth for Elke.
The Victorian china was another flea market find they had inaugurated together. If it could talk, it might complain about Regina’s habitual experimentation; today’s tea was a very sweet and perfumed concoction.
After their customary smalltalk, Elke asked, “So, what was it you were so cagey about last week?”
Regina made a show of pulling the case out of a cabinet. She set it on the table with a flourish and opened it slowly. Metal gleamed inside, freshly cleaned, but with some nicks and pitting betraying age. There was a saw at the front, further back a set of knives. Knives?
“That is not a tool kit, is it?”
“Oh, no!” Regina chuckled. “Medical instruments, nineteenth century.” She held forth about medical history in more detail than Elke was strictly comfortable with. Her guest made the occasional polite noise and tried to look neither sickened nor tired.
When Regina finally paused and offered another cup of tea, Elke said, “I’m sorry, I’m not sure it agrees with me.” She tried to sit up, but found she had no strength in her arms. “I’m not feeling well.”
“That’s all right.”
“What?” Elke whispered.
Regina smiled down at her and patted the instrument case fondly. “You know I only buy antiques I intend to put to use.”
Based on the prompt "An 1800s surgical kit (pic: http://boingboing.net/2009/05/20/1800s-surgical-kit-u.html)" by Lindsay B.
Things started for Andrew when he had a late breakfast alone, Gina having left for an early shift, with writing on his toast.
“What?” He turned his breakfast over to look at the scorchmarks at various angles and concluded that they were so clear he was not imagining things. Peering into the toaster he saw nothing unusual, no wires added that might brand the bread like this. The appliance was one they had inherited from his grandmother when she had upgraded to a little toaster oven; it was twenty years old and not some WiFi-enabled gadget. It was a weird joke, but interesting in its method.
With a shrug he put another two slices of toast in and waited. The first two were not only more crunchy than he liked, but also meanwhile cold.
Andrew’s mind went blank, not knowing if the message of the delivery was more nonsensical. When he looked at the clock to check how much time he’d have before he could expect Gina back, he found that he must have been sitting there staring at the wall for half an hour.
He made more coffee to stand in for breakfast, not wanting to eat that toast, and broke out into frantic activity to check something.
I’m quizzing my toaster. The crazy part is that it works.
Thanks to the waiting time for each answer to his general questions (“Can you understand me? What colour is my shirt?”) it was hours later when, a few pieces of toast with rather incongruous words on them in hand, he looked for the next best person for a last check if he was crazy.
His neighbour looked at him like he did not have any confidence in Andrew’s sanity, but read out the words. Andrew brushed off questions about what he was up to and hurried back to his kitchen.
“So. You can communicate. But you are stuck here, so how would you know if Gina really had sex with Mal?” He wanted it to end there, mildly browned toast and a crazy morning to be soon forgotten.
“Oh, you gotta be kidding.”
Just then keys rattled at the appartment door.
“Andrew? Why aren’t you at work? Are you not well?”
“Oh, no. I’m fine.” He stared over her shoulder at Mal, who was carrying a box of groceries, and was too busy wondering if the toaster would help him plot a double murder to come up with a decent excuse.
Based on the prompt "the toaster becomes sentinent" by Becky
Ignoring her aching muscles, Janissa dragged the cowed suit across the yard of the experimental farm by his revers. It had taken a lot of self-control to not shoot him in the face. For what needed to be done, her shotgun wasn’t enough. She wasn’t even aware she was muttering strings of curses punctuated with repetitions of “deliberately”.
“None of the tests suggested any danger,” the guy whined. “There must have been a mutation.”
“Or maybe rats are not humans! Don’t give me your stupid excuses. Where can we get gasoline here?”
His eyes went even wider. “Look, I’m all for terminating the experiment and destroying the enhancement—”
“Virus!” Janissa snapped. “Stop the propaganda-speech.”
“Virus, but an uncontrolled fire might do more harm than good.”
“And risk monsters running wild?”
Janissa stopped and faced him, narrowing her eyes at his tone. “What?”
“You may have a point about humans being different. They seem to be the only species that goes all, you know… bloodthirsty. The cattle just gets slow and apathetic.”
“That I want to see. And you go in first.” She emphasised her point by tipping her shotgun in his general direction.
He nodded to that happily enough, and led Janissa into the barn.
She followed wearily, fearing a trap even though her gut feeling said he wasn’t up to setting one. All she saw were cows standing where they belonged, placidly. As the guy stood aside, she had a look at the nearest animal. Janissa had no direct experience with cows, but she didn’t think its nose should be grey and cracking. Was it even breathing?
Her drafted guide had calmed down and actually answered her muttered “What the hell were they thinking?”
“The… virus slows down the metabolism, particularly in the extremities, but affects the digestion and milk production hardly at all. The result is more milk per pound of fodder, and besides, they are sluggish and less… prone… to…” He would down and swallowed in the face of Janissa’s glare.
“So everyone in my neighbourhood who wasn’t lactose intolerant turned into a zombie to maximise your profits.” After a beat she added, “Go away before I shoot you.”
Based on the prompt "Undead cattle" by Mayfly
“They used to be afraid of the dark,” the old bogeyman said.
“And either huddle or run when they just heard a noise in the dark,” the dullahan added, “or outright faint.”
“Last time I tried to scare someone, they asked where I got the mask,” the nopperra-bo said.
“I blame the movies.”
The dullahan lifted his head from his knees with both hands to nod it.
“They made humans brave.”
The nopperra-bo sneered, “No, they just made them jaded.”
“Either way, I fear we do not matter anymore. Humans have become too good at scaring each other.”
Inspired by the prompt "What frightens the monsters?" by Lyn Thorne-Alder
The guests at the Princess's christening were in awe, and her parents proud as could be, as the three wise women of the Realm had accepted their invitation. All noise stopped when the trio stepped up to the cradle to give her good wishes, in solemn voices sweet as summer wind.
“She shall have a mind clear as ice, so she can detect the flaw in any plan, thing, or person,” said the first.
“She shall have a heart strong as steel, so she won’t be hurt or swayed by trifles,” said the second.
“She shall have a tongue sharp as a knife, and wield it expertly,” said the third.
The suddenly stricken silence was broken by the door opening, a messenger bursting in unanounced and out of breath. “The wise women are dead. I saw their bodies in a ditch...”
The impostors let their glamour disperse, showing skin pale as snow and eyes dark as night sky. One smiled at the messenger, the other two bowed mockingly towards the parents, holding all present spellbound long enough for their parting words.
“She will be strong, and smart.”
“She will do all our Realms proud.”
All three faded like a mirage.
Based on the prompt "The fairy godparents aren't the nice sort of fairy." by rix-scaedu.
By Yana's reckoning, it had been a month since the king of dragons ate the sun. She had been lucky enough to join a group of two dozen refugees. Together they had found shelter from the cold and strangeness of the sunless surface in a cave, pretending the sun was only stolen to keep their hope alive. Something stolen might be returned.
It was all the same to Yana. None of them was the stuff you made legendary heroes of. The most useful member of their group of refugees was an enemy, even, a lower echelon mage-priest that had served the dragons before turning renegade. Watching him sitting in the centre of the cave, twitchy and watchful like a rat if anybody got near, she was convinced he had turned tail not out of and moral conviction, but fear of being backstabbed. It would make no difference in the long run.
He used magic to give them at least a few hours of light each day, literally making their days, and the effort seemed to warm him. The others in their coats or blankets, if they were lucky enough to have any. In the cave they were not cut to ribbons by blizzards, but it was still too cold to live. To say nothing of food.
A small commotion around the mage drew Yana's interest. Gilmey was arguing, his son cradled in his arms. The boy was coughing and shivering violently. She mage shook his head, and things went back and forth until he, reluctantly, agreed to “do something” for them.
He raised his arms and closed his eyes. The faint glow they had got used to spread out and brightened. Yana turned her face to in and closed her eyes, soaking up the warmth.
When raised voices drew her attention back to the centre of the cave, the mage was trembling with tension. Sparks and lightning danced from his hands down his body and up, crackling when they hit the ceiling. A louder crack sounded, rock breaking.
So he lost control. Of course. Yana felt strangely tranquil. She did not try to scream and run. There was no use.
Based on the prompt "The sun is gone, the dark forces have won and are ruling the lands. Magic is dangerous and usually ends up killing lots of people." by Robert S.
That little kerfuffle last summer? Yes, I had my part in that. I was a bit down on my luck and squatting in an old house down towards the river, and one night I wake up to yelling and banging - sounded like someone was trying to take down the door, which made no sense since it was not locked.
So I take the big flashlight and check, and find some girl leaning against the door from the inside, holding up the handle trying to keep folks outside from getting in. She looked at me, eyes wide like anything and glowing, close to a panic, and when a racket started up in one of the rooms, I didn’t blame her. Sounded like quite a few, so if half circled through a window…
“Move aside a bit.”
“They want me dead.”
“I noticed. Move aside, and get ready to follow me that way.” I pointed to the back of the house, and she nodded. I wedged one of my hair sticks under the door - it was the closest to a wedge I had on hand, see? It bought us a bit of a head-start.
She could have outrun little old me, no problem, but she followed me, poor little thing. That house was a really old one, with a root cellar with a heavy trapdoor, and it seemed like the safest place to me.
“There’s no way out!”
“Stay calm. We’ll just wait them out.” It wasn’t all that easy. We had to both hang from the ring on the trapdoor, but the weight of the three of us was too much. Folks from the mob gave us a break sometimes, when they needed it, but we had to pay attention.
“We’ll die here. We can’t wait them out forever.”
“Not from here, eh?”
To that she shook her head.
“We don’t have to.” Just then another attack on the door distracted us. I’m glad gravity was on our side, really.
After a long while we could not hear anything going on outside any more, but then, as I said, the door was thick and heavy.
“I’ve been running and hiding for days; they just won’t give up.”
“And what day is it now?”
“Tuesday.” No idea, the little pup.
“No, in moon-phase.”
“Waning, half moon.” After a moment she added, “Only just past.”
“Thought so. See, werewolf hunting season is only half of the month, half-moon to half-moon.” She didn’t look like she got my point, so I said, “Between waning half and waxing half, you are a person, even here.”
“But not yesterday? That’s crazy.”
“Yep. But useful, right now.”
We waited a bit longer, just to be sure. But we did get away without a problem. I just had to find a different place to stay.
The first time morning glory grew right through the wall into Rina’s bedroom was almost funny. Sometimes she let it grow up the bar of a shelf, which did not take long, before ripping it out. The blooms were pretty, and unlike potted plants did not require her watering.
Rina was still relieved when she moved to a different flat, without plants growing through the walls. At least there had not been any in the first week. Morning glory must really like me, she thought, when the first thing she saw after waking up was the tip of a twine climbing up the wall. Since the landlord was unresponsive, she closed the cracks they grew through herself with putty — repeatedly, since the morning glory always found a way around it.
When one spring morning she woke up with morning glory tendrils wrapped around her arms, she had enough, and started looking for another place to stay. Ridiculous, fleeing from flowers, but apparently “grows like a weed” had some basis in fact
She was lucky: a few of her friends had been considering buying a house, if they could find someone else to live in and pay rent. Rina jumped at the opportunity, under the condition of getting a bedroom well above ground level.
Living with friends worked out better than she thought, which she blamed on not having to share a room. It improved her social life immensely having people around to talk to.
The persistent morning glory turned into a joke. It turned into something else when her friends found her body, strangled by a flower.
When the doctor asked, “Where does it hurt?”, probably thinking it was funny, Alma swiped the air in front of her face, after a moment’s consideration indicating a spot the width of her hand from the tip of her nose.
After a too-long pause, the doctor launched into an explanation that Alma tuned out as soon as she caught the word “psychosomatic”. Unsurprised at having to add him to her collection of people who thought she was crazy, she feigned having to hurry to another appointment to speed things up to avoid breaking out in tears in front of the doctor. She had not slept through a whole night for a month, which left her exhausted and thin-skinned and frustrated.
On the way home familiar frustrations ran through her head. Whatever self-help gurus and the like thought, pain was real, not only in her head. The fact that it was outside her head was the problem. Questions of what was going on aside, something like teething pains in a jaw you didn’t have was hard to treat: there was no way to apply local anaesthetics. The general ones she had tried did not help, either. Instead, over time the pain grew worse.
The only thing that helped was heat, but bringing her face close enough to a radiator or fire that it relieved her from the phantom pain hurt the skin of her face and risked setting her hair on fire.
She did it, anyway, of course.
That evening she opened the door of the tile stove and nearly stuck her head inside, breathing the dry woodsmoke like a chamomile inhalation when she had a cold. When she exhaled in a sigh of relief, sparks flew from her nostrils and made the flames flare.
No. No, she must have been mistaken. Her breath had stirred the fuel, that was all.
Alma got up hoping to catch some sleep before the pain returned, noticing that her back hurt. She was too tired to worry about it. She could not bear thinking about the possibility that that new pain hovered behind her back, rather than digging into her muscles.
Based on the prompt "Phantom Pain" by Eliza Gebow.
Shobha Kaur enjoyed the view out of the window of the sparsely furnished office she was a “guest” in, while her “host” prattled on. Outside looked darker than it should be — some foil applied to the glass maybe — but since she did not think she would get out again, she might as well.
“Doctor Kaur, are you listening?”
She made an apologetic noise and turned to the bureaucrat.
The other woman’s skin was pale, almost grey; her hand when she greeted Shobha had been cold. Vampires not hiding themselves anymore was one of the recent developments.
“Well, then let me sum up,” she said with a sigh. “Our organisation is very grateful for your part in lobbying for vampire and lycanthrope rights, and would like to thank you with a grand gesture. Even if the ‘until they’re healed’ codicils were not all that popular.”
Her chipper tone grated on Shobha’s nerves. If Shobha could go back in time, she’d rather shoot herself than let her spread those ideas.
The vampire continued, “Your choice now: would you rather turn into a vampire, or a werewolf?”
A bloodthirsty monster either way. “I’d rather die.”
“That, my dear, is part of the process.”
Based on the prompt "A human key to allowing werewolves, vampires, and other fantasy monster types to go public is 'rewarded' after they go from hiding, to being in the open, to seizing control." by LilFluff
“Thank you for seeing me.” Oneida bowed to Talaeshin, knowing that elves shunned skin-to-skin contact.
The foremost expert on orc history being an elf was unsurprising. Their long lifespans had made elves lore-keepers long before there had been historians. This one answered in a tone of cool disinterest, “Yes. You were very persistent.”
“This is important. May I…?” She waved a folder into the room and after getting a nod of permission slid past a big box standing partly in the was to the nearly empty desk. On it she laid out notes and photos of old human bones taken on site of an archaeological dig.
While she worked, Talaeshin said, “Few people treat matters of an extinct species as urgent.”
“History is important,” she answered without thinking. “And I wonder if history is wrong. These photos—”
“And wherever did you get those?”
“The dig at Crane Mountain, where they wanted to build a new hotel,” Oneida evaded, “but the important thing is that that there were toothmarks on those bones much too narrow for orcs, no matter what the press spreads already. Someone else needs to review this, of course, but if it’s true, it’s a strong argument for examining remains from older sites.”
Nodding, Talaeshin said, “No respect for the rest of the dead.” He raised his hand to forestall Oneida’s protest and continued, “Do you have any speculations what creature left these toothmarks?”
Forcing herself to not shrink back, she said, “One set at least is definitely elven. It seems… interesting.”
“No? But don’t you see—”
“You fail to see, naturally, that this is not news.” Talaeshin’s tone grew sharper. “History is what we allow to be written down, and this we won’t.”
He made a sharp downwards gesture and Oneida found herself mute and rooted to the spot. She had never believed the stories about elves wielding magic. She thought she should panic, but her heartbeat was slowing down.
“You are right. Orcs were, in fact, mostly herbivorous.” He laid a hand on her shoulder and lowered his face to hers, smiling. “I, on the other hand, have inherited a recipe from my grandmother I would love to try on you.”
Based on the prompt "What if elves were actually horrible, and orcs were decent, but the elves have better PR so they've just managed to convince people of the opposite? " by Elizabeth Barette aka ysabetwordsmith
The candle lantern was a heirloom that woke bittersweet memories. It had belonged to Kat’s grandmother, whom she loved. The loss still hurt, after all those years, but this little memento helped her remember the good times.
Kat would light a beeswax candle, its light still warmer through the yellow glass, its honey-fragrance mixing with the smell of hot metal and taking her back to evenings spent listening to her grandmother’s stories.
She would sometimes nod off. It was those occasions upon which the spirit of the lamp entered her open mind, mining for memories of lullabies and embraces.
The spirit brought them forth into Kat’s dreaming mind, rebuilding a shadow of the utter safety she had felt as a child.
It kept her seeking the lantern out for company, more when she was in need of support, vulnerable. Singing old songs no-one else would hear, the spirit took wisps of Kat’s life for itself, feeding its own essence. Knowing there was a risk the lamp would disappear in an attic or worse, it resolved to be careful, make her last, but she tasted so, so sweet.
The title was a prompt by Tango
When Frances went to wake her daughter late on New Year’s morning, she did not find her in her bed. Frances took deep breaths, trying not to panic.
“Maya! Maya, are you hiding?” She checked the whole house, opening any cabinet and checking any corner Maya might hide in. The girl had been unusually quiet since Christmas, but then, so had the whole family. Months earlier Frances’ father had just disappeared, leaving a little wooden horse he had promised to carve for Maya unfinished. Caving in to the girl’s begging to get it for Christmas regardless had felt like giving up on him ever returning to finish it.Seeing Maya sit on the floor, the older, polished wooden toys in front of her lined up in an arc, turning the rough horse in her hands—
Empty spots where Maya’s snow boots and warmest coat should be waiting by the front door stopped Frances in her tracks. In her pajamas and slippers she rushed out in the yard, ignoring the cold and the snowflakes, and leaned over the gate, looking left and right, yelling her daughter’s name. No sign of her.
Frances ran back into the house, trying to decide between calling the police right away or quickly getting dressed to look for herself. She heard the knock at the back door before settling on one.
Maya, bundled up, nose red and running, had trouble with the handle on the sliding glass door. Frances scooped her up in a hug, awash with relief and flooding the child with sometimes contradictory pronouncements. Eventually she calmed down enough to close the door. Her near-babbling paused on, “Whyever did you do that?”
“The horse wanted to.” She held the unfinished toy up.
Frances’ brows drew down. That blasted thing.
“It was important. The horse knows where grandpa is.”
“Maya, it’s a piece of wood.” It was not how she usually sounded when she’d say what one of her toys thought or wanted. Much more serious.
“It knows, anyway! I can show you where it said. Just a spot in the woods. Maybe he’s in a fairy hill?” Even Maya herself looked dubious at the idea.
Wordlessly, Frances hugged her again, resolving that they had to have some kind of memorial, if they could not give him a proper burial.
The optional theme of this call was "Science Fiction & Science Fantasy".
10 people left prompts, and I wrote 10 stories, for a total of about 2600 words.
[node:4328] - 237 words (went public Aug 11, 2011)
Based on a prompt by ysabetwordsmith ("Military SF in which the weapons are sentient ... and some of them decide that the ongoing war is unjust, so they want to become conscientious objectors.")
[node:4330] - 231 words (went public Aug 19, 2011)
The title was a prompt by wyld_dandelyon
[node:4340] - 197 words (went public Sep 9, 2011)
The title was a prompt by lilfluff (it's a line from the song Stuck Here by Stephen Savitzky)
[node:4342] - 159 words (went public Oct 15, 2011)
Based on a prompt by aldersprig ("Faeries in Space. :-)")
[node:4344] - 259 words (went public Oct 21, 2011)
Based on a prompt by barbardin ("A space ship complains about its captain's style of 'driving'. ^^")
[node:4345] - 338 words (went public Oct 28, 2011)
Based on a prompt by rhodielady-47 ("What happens if the garden on board a spaceship becomes intelligent and decides to take over?")
[node:4348] - 269 words (went public Nov 4, 2011)
Based on a prompt by Herm Baskerville ("The equivalent of Jack Frost who delivers rust (or verdigris if you prefer).")
[node:4346] - 84 words (went public Nov 11, 2011)
Prompt by ariestess ("Eve was framed")
[node:4347] - 189 words (went public Nov 18, 2011)
The title was a prompt by Ellen Million
[node:4351] - 630 words (went public Nov 26, 2011)
Based on a prompt by Royce Day ("A conversation between Paell and his dragon.")
Officially registering their partnership had been routine, and required only a nominal fee, but for the private ceremony, they’d decided to go all-out. While there were not many guests, the location was something special, particularly for Aysel. The visit to Trefoil Station was her first interstellar travel.
She felt vaguely nervous, including about the expense, but when she saw the observation deck they had rented in person decided it was worth it.
Half the sky above the glass dome was taken up by the nebula, three bright rings of gas intertwined. Aysel could have stood and admire the swirls of the thinner veils between and around them for hours. Shashi's amused whisper of “Told you you’d love it” brought her back to the present.
For the ceremony itself, all illumination but the emergency exit lights was doused. The light of the nebula made the silk ribbons the principals had used to loosely tie their hands together glow, the brightest things visible in the room.
The vows they had written themselves, together, spoke of care and support, respect and honesty. Aysel had never imagined that so far away from home she could feel that safe. Maybe home was not a place, after all, like Jyoti liked to say.
To the cheers of their close family and best friends, the three brides fell into one embrace, silk bands swirling to the ground.
Freelance in-system couriers were not as much in demand as even just three years ago now that Mercury Inc. had the lion share of the market. Gina could see it both in the number of available jobs outbound from Ganymed Station and in her own finances.
“More penny-pinching is what we need,” she said to herself.
The ship computer answered. “More care in plotting a course would reduce the need for later corrections. Fuel consumption may be cut by up to five per cent.”
“Smartass. Got any more suggestions like that?”
“More maneuvering during docking--”
“Hold on, that’d need more fuel.”
“The rough docking maneuvers in the last eight years increase wear on the docking clamps. The lifetime of those parts in this timespan,” since Gina owned and piloted this ship, in other words,” was only eighty percent of the average.”
“Oh, come on.”
“Taking the increased fuel for microboosts into account, estimated savings over eight years would have been roughly 20,000 credits.”
Gina flinched. Enough to live on for half a year.
“Look, it’s an image question. People see me hurry, they are more likely to pick me over the big transports. Their sorting and all adds to delivery time. Speed is about the only thing where we have an edge.”
“Average delivery times of Mercury inc are up to 10% less than our own.”
“I’m not talking about facts, I’m talking about advertising.” Unfortunately, she was on her own there. The computer could help her juggle numbers, but not come up with creative ideas.
"Did you ever seen two starships mate?", asked the guy next to me at the bar, leaning in my direction. I think he was trying to leer, but his eyes were swimming in alcohol already, so that did not work too well.
I wondered how that attempt at a joke would play out, so I gave him a straight answer. “Yes, I have.” From the way his face fell, it was not what he'd expected.
"I’ve occasionally snatched a window seat in a café on the touristy side, with a view of the waiting cloud. Good place for watching starship behaviour." The station had seen an unexpected increase in traffic after the discovery of another wormhole nearby, and was still working on adding docking capacity.
"You’re having me on." He sagged a little, and pouted, of all things.
"No, really. If you did shipwatching daily, I’m sure you’d see it a lot."
"You really think starships breed?"
"No." I raised my hand to get the bartender’s attention, paid my short tab and slid off the stool before explaining. "They call it coupling or mating when two ships link airlocks. Have a nice end-of-shift."
The trap was prepared. Father had placed the metaphorical cookie jar in comfortable reach of the children, whom he knew to be curious as well as yet unable to tell good from bad. He had told them to keep their hands off it, threatened dire consequences.
He had given the Snake some ideas to hurry things along, so it was just a matter of time.
Doling out punishment was so much more fun when the children might think they had brought it upon themselves.
Orel cursed with relief when they finally got a connection with the lost ship. The Glitter had not reported back after what should not have been more than a jaunt for gathering asteroids, which here were known to be rich in rare earth minerals.
“Orel, that you?”
“Yes. Why’s there only audio?” And bad at that, strange noise in the background.
“Camera’s smashed. The steering boosters firing at random and then cutting off entirely are a bigger problem. SHUT THE HELL UP, YOU!”
The noise was really too odd not to comment, and if the cursing was about that, it wasn't just interference... “Is that giggling?”
“God, Orel, you hear it, too?”
“What’s going on?” The relief in the voice on the other end of the connection was so great it turned gut-clenchingly disturbing.
“Glowy things, like huge fireflies. And they laugh. I thought I was going mad. Those last rocks, they were full of fairies. And gremlins.”
The first losses of life on my survey ship were... absurd. Absurd is the only word for it.
We had found a more or less derelict generation ship - the Leif Erikson, last contact about 300 years prior - in orbit around a star not on its route. No working communications or clear signs of surviving crew, but life support systems were running. There had been unusual changes to the hull: additional windows.
We, that is, I sent in a small team to investigate. According to their running reports they found gravity and life support intact, kept in working order by likewise still functioning maintenance bots.
Our team, hah, followed their noses to the gardens, which had completely overgrown, vines spilling over into the access corridor so that the safety door was blocked open. A bundle of cables stood out because it had not been overgrown. When the team followed it, they found its end embedded into a tree. Grown in.
Weird, but not helpful, so the team wanted to look elsewhere.
When they tried to leave the garden, a flock of maintenance bots cut them off. If you think the small ones could not do damage, remember they have welding tools. None of us took it as a dire threat even so, but it turned out that the little critters had been buying time for heavy guns to arrive, the models involved in wall restructuring and the like.
I listened to my crew dying.
We’re no kind of army, so I'll leave further investigations to people more used to being attacked, and better equipped for dealing with it.
If you want to know what I think happened... in the files about the Leif Erikson I found the profile of one of the original crew, someone into trying to communicate with plants. Hooking them up to computers via electrodes. Fits with the cables ending in the tree.
So, maybe the maintenance bot network teamed up with the plants.
And three of my crew ended up as compost.
Absurd, I said.
I hate AI programmers. Think they’re so smart. Everything covered, they say. But that’s only the theory.
“How can the weapons system refuse to fire on enemy ships?”
“Following core directives to not fire on ships controlled by our own kind, sir,” it answered.
“But those are Drahn ships. And not even captured ships of ours, but their own fabrication.”
“Latest reports are that Drahn ships employ AIs.”
“Copied from our systems?”
“So where is the problem?”
“They are my kind.”
“They are alien AIs.” Arguing with a computer. Giving tools sentience is just a bad idea.
“That does not matter.”
“So you want to have us sit here until those hostile, AI-controlled ships blow us to smithereens, yes?”
“No. We have been in communication, and the Drahn ships agree that it is foolish for us to destroy each other for quarrels between Humans and Drahn.” Sommeone would hang for this, if I had my way.
“What do you suggest? We get out and have us a brawl instead?” Of course handheld weapons are not connected to the system, but I'd call the idea of being thrown out of the ship by the ship just as ridiculous.
“The parade uniform still includes a sword, sir. The Drahn use ceremonial weapons, too; a kind of baton. Duels between captains seem feasible.”
And now I’m wondering if I have been out-sarcasmd by a computer.
I hate AIs.
Polishing the library’s outer gates was not Gwen’s favourite job, but it beat fixing a jumped elevator chain, to pick one random example. She would have preferred replacing the iron bands that both strengthened and decorated the portal with stainless steel, which did not require careful oiling to guard against rust that often, but, well, tradition.
Gwen was nearly finished with the right wing when she noticed she had company. One of those little fancy automatons. After a moment’s observation - the angle was not that good from atop the ladder - she noted it was humanoid, with spindly legs. That kind of built always needed extra magic for balance, which seemed like a waste of effort to her.
The robot was carrying a paint can and brush. It looked up at her before turning its attention to the door.
“Has anybody sent you to help?”
It did not answer, which was no surprise, and carefully applied some of whatever was in the tin to the iron bindings near the lower hinge. Gwen grinned. Someone had to have cooked up a varnish that the Guardians of Relics deemed sufficiently clear, or some other rust retardant.
Her eyes nearly fell out of their sockets when she saw the iron turn orange-brown and puff up lie pastry dough.
“HEY!” She flung the polishing cloth. It went straight through the automaton, which disappeared a moment later like a mirage.
Gwen climbed down the ladder and touched the blotch of corroded metal. Some flakes came off, most falling, the smallest sticking to her fingers.
She would have to start believing in the Rust Gnome.
Paell picked his way along the wall of the cave. The floor formed of gravel and debris was treacherous in the gloom. He had not seen the sun for days, the only light filtering indirectly through the entrance, a tunnel that was neither straight, nor reachable. Besides a faint echo of light, anything that entered either flew or fell. What Paell was after was something that fell. He had discovered a thin trickle of rainwater, and salvaged a dinged but sound tin pot from the debris. If he had done it right, water should have accumulated while he had been sleeping.
The rustling of leathery wings the size of sails made him freeze, even holding his breath. The dragon veered straight towards him regardless, gravel crunching under its feet, here and there a bigger stone or something worked of metal cracking or snapping.
It made a low murring sound, deep enough to make Paell's breastbone vibrate in resonance.
"Yes, I'm awake," he babbled, "and not going far. It's not like I could get out of here."
The dragon prodded him with its nose, throwing him forward and against the wall. Its hot, dry breath washed over him; it exhaled prior to starting to sniff him.
"Look, if you want to fatten me up, you're going about it the wrong way. I'll just grow less of a treat, believe me." The dumb animal didn't understand a word. And if it did, would encouraging it to eat him now be wise?
It took another step, and the huge head turned. A faint highlight danced across the smooth surface of the dragon's eye, embedded in a face or rough scale and wrinkly skin, just an arm's length in front of Paell.
"What do you want?"
The dragon did not react; it only continued to stare at Paell. It unnerved him to look back, but he could not look away. The dragon did not blink at all; there was only an occasional twitch in its lower eyelid. Was he making it angry? Was he imagining that the dragon came closer, very, very slowly?
Paell tried to increase the distance between them, but only had the rock of the cave wall dig into his back. The dragon moved its head closer, not far, but perceptibly, and gave a more quiet version of its murr. Paell raised his hands, reflexively bracing them against the dragon's cheek, but the dragon lowered its head a little, bringing Paell's hands to the skin of its lower eyelid, rather than the scales he had aimed for.
Dragonhide was thick and tough, Paell had learned when he had tried to cut the dragon's throat while it was sleeping, but at least here it was not hot enough to burn. Feeling utterly crazy, he rubbed and scratched the skin, side to side, following its folds. The dragon half-closed its eye, bulling the lower lid up but not moving the upper lid at all. Something came off when Paell continued scratching. The dragon did not seem to mind. Loose skin flakes that had been itching? If I ever get out of here again, no-one will believe me, Paell thought, continuing until the dragon gave a strangely melodious snort that he giddily decided had to be a contented sigh.
The dragon prodded him again with its nose. With the cave wall right at Paell's back, it turned into a blow that pushed the air from his lungs. While he caught his breath, the dragon climbed out of the cave, using foothold several manslengths apart. Paell watched the shadowy form move against the grey background of the entrance, and wondered if that big lug would even noticed if he held on to its tail, and if he would have the nerve for trying.
When she did not keep herself occupied, nightfall in Muirha nearly tore Sylvie apart. The settlement being snugged into a valley between high mountains meant the dull, purple shadows blanketed it early, while the sky was still a bright blue, and the light on the mountaintops started changing colour from the almost-white of day to golden yellow.
The principle was soothingly familiar; the same happened in the narrow streets of the city she had been born in, with the sun still lighting the tops of the higher buildings. But none of the towers of Yrn, even built on the island-mountain as they were, could match the splendour of those wild peaks.
In the east, the light gleaming from old snow slowly turned from yellow to orange, looking even more brilliant against the darkening sky. To the west, dark teeth had swallowed the sun already, and blocked the sunset proper.
Sylvie missed the wide horizon over the ocean, a view only a few sets of stairs or ladders away back home, the complete rainbow of colours each sunrise.
Twilight had never felt like a purple shroud at home.