pitchstorm

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Ack

Published July 28, 2020 by Iphis of Scyros

So, I’ve been struggling lately, right? I figured, you know, the problem is all the world-building stuff. It’s kind of stifling, not doing anything else (writing-wise).

That was why I figured, you know, try something else for a while.

And what to do but try a few days of quick writing prompts?

So I sit down with Pitchstorm and pull out a set of cards.

I end up writing for all of nine minutes. Only 341 words.

It was an awful combination of cards. Two of them were too specific and the third one fit too well with the third. (Which sounds kinda backwards, but…)

Anyway, since it wasn’t much time spent, I figured “okay, I’ll just try again.” And I got these cards…

Total failure.

I mean, even if you were playing the actual game, it wouldn’t work right.

So, I decide to try again.

Again, it just doesn’t work for me. It’d probably be no good for the game, too. The pieces fit too smoothly to be funny, and they’re too “not me” to stir me up to anything.

So I decided to try that Photoshop map tutorial.

It was awful.

The end result looked more like someone sneezed on my monitor than like I made a map.

To cap it all off, I didn’t even start the timer, and I have zero idea how long I spent on that disaster.

😦

So my total time for today ended up only being nine minutes, because by the time I was done with this garbage, I was just plain done.

Total time in July to date: 26:21:26.31.

Last Day of November

Published November 30, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

And one last writing prompt to fill out my NotNaNo experience!  Using Pitchstorm again.


Once upon a time, the senior swim team at the 13th Street Y was big enough that they had trouble coordinating practices; inevitably, the lanes got too clogged and everything slowed down.  When they were kids, Barry and Terry found that hilarious.  They would sit in the lobby and watch the old people running into each other as they tried to swim laps, and they would laugh their impertinent little asses off.

Now, sixty-five years later (give or take half a decade), they didn’t find it so funny.  And it didn’t matter anyway, because there were only five people on the senior swim team now:  the two of them, Matilda (who was ninety-seven if she was a day, yet claimed to be only seventy), Mary-Jane and Marianne.  Before Marianne joined the team, Barry and Terry referred to their teammates as M&M when the ladies couldn’t hear them…which was most of the time, since Matilda’s hearing aid batteries were constantly depleted, and Mary-Jane insisted that she didn’t need hearing aids yet, despite being completely deaf in one ear.

Still, it was a puny team, and the Senior Olympics were coming up in just a few months, and they couldn’t hope to qualify at this rate, let alone win.  They desperately needed some fresh blood on the team.

So, when Marianne came to work practice one day gushing about the new man who just moved into the house across the street from her son, Barry and Terry were quickly excited.  The man, Marianne insisted, was about seventy and strong as an ox.  She also said he was the most handsome man she’d seen over sixty-five since Sean Connery, but they doubted the judges at the Senior Olympics cared about attractiveness.

After talking about it for a couple of days, Barry and Terry asked Marianne to bring them over to meet this man she was so enamored with, to see if he was interested in joining the swim team.  Being glad of any excuse to talk to her crush, Marianne eagerly agreed to meet them the next day at her son’s house.

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Everything forgotten…

Published November 27, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Today I did another writing prompt using Pitchstorm, and it rapidly turned into Velvet Goldmine fanfic.  I may (or may not) eventually post it to AO3, and if I do, the title of this post will be the title of the fic there.  It comes from the opening narration of the movie, which includes the line “While everything forgotten hangs in dark dreams of the past, ever threatening to return…”

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Today, a Writing Prompt

Published November 26, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

So, with one thing and another, finding myself without a project (between projects?), rather than trying to start up a new one, with all the quasi-planning (and sometimes (quasi-)research) that involves, I decided to just do writing prompts for the rest of the month.  Or at least until I figure out something better today.

And I thought I’d share today’s with you.  In the past, I’ve put the prompt first (I’m using Pitchstorm again), but this time I thought I’d put it after the story.

And now, on with the show…

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Writing Prompt Session 5 (this one is crazy)

Published June 29, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

So, fifth session with Pitchstorm as a writing prompt.  This was yesterday morning before work.  (Meant to post it last night, but stuff happened.)


The Cards

Character:  A nun with a scandalous secret

Plot:  fights a huge angry bear.

Notes:  It needs more sexting…  My assistant tells me that’s in with the kids.

(Needless to say, the “Notes” card came from the NC-17 expansion pack.  One of the backer-suggested cards, too.)


The Story!


Sister Sally sat slowly on the devout divan, delighting in the delay.  (And then apologized to herself and to God for her appalling alliterating.)

It was a hard life, being a nun in Zootopia.  In no small part because no one seemed to know or care that religion was a thing.

As she waited for the train, she became aware of yelling from further in the station.  Heaving herself back onto her hooves, she ambled in the direction of the fracas, and found a particularly large bear in a ferocious argument with an oddly top-heavy tiger whose fur seemed to have glitter in it.  “Calm yourselves, my children,” Sally begged moving between them.  “What is this argument all about?”

“This disgusting pervert was taking pictures of his tail and sending it over text messaging!” the bear insisted, pointing one of her claws at the tiger.

“I told you it was an accident!” the tiger replied.  “My paw slipped!”

“Is that what they believe in your part of the world?” the bear retorted, putting her paws on her hips.  “Because in the forest we’re not that gullible.  Go on, pull the other one.”

“But it’s the truth,” the tiger moaned.  “Why would I be sending dirty pictures of myself to random strangers?”  He shook  his head, then glanced at his watch.  “Please, I’m going to be late to rehearsal at this rate.”

“We all make mistakes,” Sister Sally said, smiling at the bear.  “Whether his was an accident or intentional, he is plainly sorry it happened.  Can you not find it in yourself to forgive?”

“Keep out of this, black-n-white,” the bear snarled.

Something snapped inside Sally, as it always used to before she found religion.  Didn’t that bear know how badly a zebra could be bullied?  Didn’t she understand how painful it was to be teased about coloration she could do nothing about?  It wasn’t that she couldn’t decide between black and white—she was just born that way!

Before Sally knew what she was doing, she was swinging her hooves at the bear’s face.  By the time she came to, the tiger was holding her back, and she seemed to be screaming wordlessly at the bear, who was likewise being restrained by passersby.

Sally’s brain didn’t really start functioning again until she was sitting in the back of the police car, once more on her way to the lock-up.

If there had been other nuns, they would surely be deeply disappointed in her.  So maybe it was for the best that she had been forced to create a convent to fill her religious needs…


And as soon as I finished writing it, I followed it up (after a dashed line to show the end of the story) with “omg wtf was that?”  Because I really don’t know where that came from.

Okay, it probably came from having binge-watched most of season 2 of Aggretsuko the previous night.  (Because I always find myself thinking that said anime is Japan’s answer to Zootopia.)  And yet, wouldn’t it have made more sense if I’d set it in Retsuko’s Tokyo than in Zootopia?  I dunno, I just don’t get it.  This was one of those cases where my fingers were typing away and my brain was sort of in disconnect with them, left reeling by what they came up with.  (Are my hands possessed?)


On a more sane note, things may go differently on this blog in the following month, because I’m doing Camp NaNo this July.  So, actually, they may go back to the former normal of “dead silence.”  After a post tomorrow about my Pride Month reading, and of course the Insecure Writer’s Support Group post on Wednesday.  But then there may not be much going out until August.  Or I might keep posting writing prompts if I’m needing them.  (Though I’m hoping to get the last of the myths written up to accompany my NaNo novel from…ack, two years ago?  Good grief, I need to stop mucking about and get that thing in the hands of a second beta reader so I can be done with it and move on to the sequel, or the story will never be finished!  Also hoping to write a fanfiction cross-over I’ve had in mind for a while now.)

Writing Prompt Session 4

Published June 20, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Still using Pitchstorm as my writing prompt.  (See the first writing prompt post for an explanation.)  And in case you’re keeping track, yes, there is no “Writing Prompt Session 3” post.  Because my third attempt was a total freakin’ disaster.  Mostly because it gave me a “character” I just couldn’t work with (a country singer determined to make it big in Nashville) in a completely untenable position (on a deadly white-water rafting trip, with the superpower of being able to talk to cats, which meant that somehow there had to be a cat on the rafting trip) and it just sort of fell apart and after I failed to finish it in the first sitting, I just couldn’t force myself to go back to it.  And since the point of all this is to help me get back into the habit of writing, trying to stick to something I just couldn’t deal with seemed counter-productive.

So, anyhow, wrote this one yesterday morning before work.  As always, no edits other than spelling.


The Cards

Character:  A medical student in desperate need of fresh cadavers

Plot:  crashes their plane in the Canadian wilderness.

Notes:  You know what’s hot right now?  Found footage!  Let’s do that.


The Story!


The couple stumbled into the cabin, glad to be out of the storm.  “Is anyone home?” called Lucille, as Sally slammed the door shut again, bolting it against the crashing wind outside.

When no answer came from the little cabin, they shone their lights across the room.  The cabin looked like it had been furnished sometime in the 1970s, and probably hadn’t seen use in almost as long.  Everything was covered in dust.  The only reason there weren’t any cobwebs, they were sure, was because it was much too cold in that part of the world for spiders.

“Let’s start a fire,” Sally suggested, turning a light onto the fireplace, beside which a pile of dusty firewood rested.  “Before we freeze solid.”

Lucille agreed, and they quickly transferred some of the wood into the fireplace and lit a nice, cheery fire.  The warmth from the fire was slow to spread, though, so they decided to keep moving about to prevent the ravages of the cold.  Splitting up, they explored the cabin.  Lucille took the upper floor, and Sally the rest of the ground floor.  When they reconvened, Sally reported that there was no food in the kitchen that hadn’t rotted away years ago.  Lucille hadn’t found any signs of current occupants, but presented a different kind of find.

“What is it?” Sally asked, looking at the device.  It was large and clunky, but definitely some kind of camera.

“I’ve seen these in old movies,” Lucille said.  “It’s a video camera.  It records onto these big, awkward things called video cassettes.”

A little further investigation of the device revealed that there was a cassette in the camera.  As there was somehow still working electricity (they felt sure it must have been connected to a solar-powered battery), and a television rested not far from the fireplace, they decided to have a look at the cassette, if they could.  On the bottom of the small television was a rectangular hole just the right size for the cassette, so Lucille gently inserted the object.  It didn’t want to go in the first time, but after experimenting with direction a bit, it finally clicked into place.

Turning on the television allowed them to rewind the cassette to the beginning.  Once it was rewound, it began to play back its footage on the television’s screen…

 

***

 

A party.  People in brightly colored shirts and tight denim trousers, shirts with wide lapels and flaring trousers, dancing to music with a fast, suggestive beat.   The camera homes in on one of them, a young man.  “Woooo!” a woman’s voice shouts from beside the camera.  “Shake it, Lenny!”

The young man turns his back to the camera and wiggles his posterior in its direction, causing the woman to let out another whoop.

The camera shakes and wobbles, and turns briefly towards a banner that reads “Graduation!” before cutting to static.

 

***

 

The young man, Lenny, stands before the camera, reaching towards it with both hands.  As he steps away, we see he is wearing a white lab coat, buttoned closed.  He stands in a sterile room, and behind him lies a corpse on a slab.

“Dissection Exam One,” he says sternly into the camera.  “For Dr. Morgenstern’s class.  Date April 12, 1987.”  He turns away from the camera, and approaches the corpse.  “Subject is a John Doe, found in a ditch outside town.  Found naked, with no apparent sign of injury.  Believed by the police to be a homeless wino.”  He picks up a clipboard from the table, and reads the text written on it.  “My assignment is to determine his cause of death.”

He sets down the clipboard and picks up a scalpel.  “Initial examination has revealed nothing.  Preparing to make first incision.”

As he reaches the scalpel towards the man’s chest, a burst of static interrupts, and suddenly he is standing in front of the camera again, looking concerned.  The corpse behind him has been covered again.  “Cause of death appears to be disease, but an unknown disease.  His inner organs have turned translucent, almost transparent.”  Lenny bites his lip.  “Is it a genetic disease?  Is it contagious?  Am I contaminated?”

The static returns.

 

***

 

The camera resolves on a row of corpses in a morgue, all covered over with sheets.  “June 7, 1988,” Lenny’s voice states.  “The disease is spreading more rapidly now.  They all died from it.  None of my professors believe me.  I can’t do anything about it without more information.  I need more test subjects.”

 

***

 

A flash of light precedes the image of a small airplane appearing out of the static.  It looks as though the static remained, but it turns out to be only the rain.  “The disease doesn’t seem to claim any victims in the winter,” Lenny’s voice announces as the plane grows closer.  “I’m taking samples with me to Alaska.  See what the cold will do to them.”

As he tries to open the door of the airplane, the camera is dropped, and turns off.

 

***

 

The image of the airplane, smashed in a clearing, resolves on screen, shaking badly.  “The storm came out of nowhere.”  Lenny’s voice trembles.  “I’ve never been hit by lightning before.  I better get out of here before the plane can catch fire or explode.  If it would do that.  I don’t know.  I don’t know where I am…”

The image swings around to show nothing but acres of trees, hard to distinguish between the low light and poor video resolution.  “I think I’m somewhere in the Yukon…”

As Lenny begins to walk towards the trees, the picture shakes and fades to more static.

 

***

 

A town, quiet and serene.  No sign of human life.

“Where is everyone?” Lenny’s voice asks.  “It’s like a ghost town…”

The camera approaches the open door of a wooden building, a general store.  Inside, a man lies on the ground.  Lenny runs over to him, and turns the man over onto his back.  Dead eyes stare up at the ceiling.  The camera is set aside, and soon Lenny can be seen examining the man.

“Dead,” he says, looking at the camera.  “Probably has been for weeks.  But why hasn’t he decomposed?  There isn’t even a smell.  I need to perform an autopsy…”

 

***

 

Lenny is turning on the camera.  “Everyone in town was dead.  More than three dozen.  All ages.  No sign of cause of death visible on any of them.”

He turns and walks away from the camera, revealing that he stands in a long, well-lit room.  It appears to have once been a restaurant, but all the tables have now been moved to the center of the room, and a row of naked corpses laid out upon them.  “I have to see what killed them…”

Lenny approaches the first corpse, but the camera shudders and falls from its stand as he does so.

 

***

 

The corpses behind Lenny are covered up now, and his face is pale and crazed.  “All of them.  Every single one.  They all had that disease.  It’s spreading at epidemic rates.  I have to get away.  I have to hide until I can develop a cure.”

“I can’t let it get me, too.”

The picture turns to static and stays that way.

 

***

 

“How eerie!” Sally exclaimed, with a slight shudder.

“Is it?” Lucille asked, with a delicate shake.  “It was just the first wave, yes?”

“But what killed them all?!  Will we be next?”

Lucille sighed.  “Just the cold probably.”  Lucille extended a gentle tentacle, and strokes Sally’s face.  “Occupying those human forms was dangerous, you know.  We’re much safer now.”

“Maybe so.”  Sally’s upper appendage shook.  “There’s always the worry that we’ll encounter some poison left behind by the humans, though…”

“Don’t worry so much!  The humans took their poisons with them when they went extinct.  The planet is ours now.  And it’s safe.  Come now, cheer up.  We’ll always protect us.”

Sally nodded, with a gentle spreading of tentacles and facial organs.  “Yes, of course.”  Sally pressed up against Lucille, their slime melding together.  “It’s so lucky those horrible humans killed themselves.  They were such revolting creatures…”

“That they were,” Lucille agreed, turning the television off again.  “Come, let’s move closer to the fire and keep warm.”

Sally agreed, and they were soon warming themselves by the gentle sparkling light.


 

Okay, so…yeah, I sort of cheated.  The reveal was weird and forced and doesn’t quite match the set-up at the beginning or the early details about the deaths (it is unedited, please remember) and it makes no sense for the alien whatever-they-ares to have normal human names.  (The strikethrough bit of text, btw, was me remembering that the footage was from the 1980s, not the 1970s, when the cabin was decorated.)

About these cards, though!  The character card was the first one I’ve had come up from the “Creature Feature” expansion, and I obviously ran in a totally different direction with it than they were expecting.  (Though that is, after all, kind of the point of the actual game.)  My first thought with it was to do something much more akin to what they might have expected, with a 19th century student of medicine out robbing fresh graves.  Only then we get to the plot involving airplanes, and that’s right out the window.

But the plot and notes cards!  How unlikely is it that two of them could be drawn at the same time that sync up so perfectly?  Found footage thrives off things like plane crashes.  Eerie.

Found footage in text form is both surprisingly easy and irritatingly difficult.

Writing Prompt Session 2

Published June 4, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Today I am posting my second writing prompt session using Pitchstorm.  (Check out the first writing prompt session for an explanation.)  As before, I have not edited this beyond fixing a few spellings.

The prompt

Character:  A stoic family of pioneers

Plot:  flees from a tribe of cannibals.

Notes:  We want some really cool 3D scenes for this.  What can we make pop out at the crowd?


The Resulting Short Fiction

 

They said, once upon a time, that there was prosperity to be found in the stars.  “Go up, young one, go up,” was the clichéd catchphrase of several generations.  Then the reports started coming back.  No precious minerals, no sexy aliens to trade with, nothing but empty space and empty planets, most of which couldn’t even support life.

The lives of the pioneers of interstellar colonization were harsh, boring, and the kind of long that made the pioneers wish for a nasty, brutish and short life.  The whole idea of colonizing other worlds became first passe, and then a forgotten joke.

Until it happened.

Some said it was the economy at fault.  Some said it was a groundless, rose-colored fantasy of the “glorious” past of the 1980s.  Others said the human race was just a toxin, bound to poison its host eventually.

Whatever the case, the Earth was dying, even more so than it had been for all these millennia.  The near-death escape of the 2020s so often described by her grandparents looked like paradise by the time Evangeline decided it was time to take her family and leave the planet.

So she and her wife packed up their most important belongings, did their best to explain to the children, and they bought the best interstellar ship they could afford.

It was roughly the equivalent of a rusted-out 1920s jalopy with a flat tire.

The ship shook so hard on take-off that they all thought they were about to die in a gigantic fireball.  But somehow they escaped the grimy Earth’s few remaining shreds of atmosphere, and sluggishly made a few orbits before crawling their way up to escape velocity and hurtling out towards the stars.

Evangeline set a course towards Alpha Centauri, where there was supposed to be a massive space station built during the last outward wave of colonists.  If there was anywhere they could go for help and direction, it would be there.  Once the computer was safely guiding the ship, Evangeline tucked the children into bed and turned on their stasis pods, then went to join her wife so they, too, could go into stasis for the long journey to the Earth’s nearest star.

“Did we really do the right thing?” Tracy asked in a tremulous voice as Evangeline laid down beside her.

“What choice did we have?”  Evangeline shook her head.

“We could have waited and boarded the next commercial flight,” Tracy said.  “What if something goes wrong while we’re all in stasis?”

“We’d never have been able to afford a ticket.  Commercial flights are for the rich.”  Evangeline sighed.  “We’re just going to have to hope the computer can handle it, or at least manage to wake us up before anything goes permanently awry.”

Tracy didn’t seem to like that answer, but she didn’t argue.  There wouldn’t have been any point in it, even if she had argued.  Even if they turned around and went back to Earth, no one would have given them any money for the broken-down old ship that had cost their whole savings.  They’d be even more trapped than they had been before.

Evangeline gave Tracy a kiss, then turned on the stasis pod, drifting off to a comfortable sleep beside her beautiful wife.

 

***

 

A vague, droning sound in the distant recesses.

Dim light flashing somewhere outside consciousness.

A voice, indistinguishable, faint.  Alarmed.

It wasn’t until the shaking started that Evangeline managed to rouse herself from her years-long slumber.  The low light and the muffled sounds did nothing to help her orient herself.  “Tracy…?” All she could think of was her family.  Where were they?  Were they safe?  Was she safe?

“Evangeline?”  Tracy’s voice in her ear filled Evangeline with a pleasant warmth, despite the fear in the voice.  “What’s going on?  Why did the computer wake us?  Are we there?”

The memories of their flight from the dying Earth suddenly flooded through Evangeline’s consciousness, and she scowled, shaking her head.  “I don’t think so.”  Cautiously, she felt along the walls, looking for the light switch.  She couldn’t find it.  “How do I turn the lights on in this bloody contraption?” she demanded.

The lights came on, full brightness, causing Evangeline to wince, covering her eyes.

Tracy recovered from the light sooner, and soon Evangeline could hear her moving out of the stasis pod, and over to the nearest computer terminal.  “We’re in the middle of nowhere,” she said.  “I can’t tell from these read-outs if we just haven’t gotten there yet, or if we got knocked off course.”

Evangeline managed to pry her hand away from her eyes, and followed her wife over to the computer.  “I think we’re a little off-course, but not too badly.  Not sure, though.”  Her crash course on interstellar navigation hadn’t really covered things like emergencies.

“At least there’s another ship we can ask for directions,” Tracy said, then bit her lip.  “Unless they’re the reason we’re off-course.”

“They’re probably the reason we’re awake, at any rate.”  Evangeline tried a few of the other menu options on the computer screen, and found that the other ship’s main drive was disabled, and that it was sending out a distress call.  Also that the computer was in the process of docking with it automatically.

“I guess we should wake the children and see if we can help,” Tracy said sadly.

“They’re probably all dead,” Evangeline countered with a grim chuckle.  “That distress signal’s been going for fifty years.  “But they might have something we can salvage.  If they’re dead, they don’t need it, right?”

“I don’t think we can take much on this tiny ship.”

“Probably not,” Evangeline agreed, “but let’s see what they’ve got.  Maybe they died so fast they couldn’t evacuate to their nice, shiny lifeboats.  From the looks of it, this was a luxury vessel when it left Earth.”  And everyone knew that the lifeboats on those fancy starliners of the last generation of attempted colonization were the sports cars of spaceships…

The children were excited to wake up again, but their excitement dwindled when they heard they hadn’t yet arrived at the space station.  Milly was thrilled by the prospect of exploring the dead spaceliner, but Timmy whined that he wanted to go back to bed and leave it alone before any aliens jumped out of the corpses of the crew.  To demonstrate what he feared was going to happen, he held his hand under his shirt, and then suddenly thrust it out the neck hole in his mothers’ faces.

“There aren’t any aliens living in corpses,” Evangeline sighed.  “We’ve obviously let you watch too many silly fantasy movies.  Space is just empty and dead.  You know that.  No aliens or fairies here.”

“Maybe we can fix what’s wrong with the ship and travel in style,” Milly suggested, with a dreamy smile.  “Ooh, ooh, or we could become pirates!”

“No one’s going to become a pirate, and none of us know how to fix antique spaceships.  Just put your space suit on and stop talking nonsense,” Evangeline said sternly.  She hated having to play lawmaker, but who else was going to do it?  Tracy was never going to be the hard one.

The family was suited up and in the airlock before the computer had quite finished docking.  “Remember, no matter what, we stick together,” Evangeline reminded them as the two airlocks began the complicated process of matching pressures.  “No wandering off, even for a moment.  If you see something you want to investigate, you tell the rest of us, and we all go together.”

“No need to tell me,” Timmy said, shuddering.  “Splitting up is always how they die.”

“No talk of dying, please,” Tracy moaned.  “It’s bad juju.”

“It’s movie theater candy?” Milly asked, turning to look at her.  “How’s that work?”

“Not jujubes, juju!” Evangeline snapped.  “It’s an old saying.”

“What’s it mean?”

Evangeline shrugged.  “No clue.  Eyes forward.  We’re almost in.”

Indeed, the airlock door was in the slow process of sliding open, and they were soon making their slow way into the airlock of the other ship.  Despite the elegant and sleek exterior, the interior of the once luxury vehicle was absolutely filthy.  As they left the airlock and stepped into the unfamiliar hallway, Evangeline’s eyes were greeted by walls covered in grime, and floors littered with vines and dead leaves.

A display lit up on the glass of her spacesuit’s helmet.  “Looks like the air is basically breathable, but there are a lot of odd things in it.”  She tapped the other side of the glass, as if that would make the readings clear up.  “Lots of ‘pollen,’ whatever that is, and other plant detritus.  We haven’t been tested for any of these things, so we’d better leave our helmets on.”  She scowled.  “How in the world have they managed to get such a high amount of oxygen in this air?  I think we’d be left light-headed if we breathed it.  Earth hasn’t got anywhere near this much.”

“Maybe it’s just because there’s no pollutants?” Tracy suggested.  “We had to bring along regular atmospheric air, after all.  I think if you buy it tanked, it’s much more pure.”

Evangeline shrugged, and had another look at the read-outs hovering seemingly in the air before her eyes.  “It looks like there are actually life readings.  This way,” she added, turning to the right down the corridor.

The further they walked down the corridor, the more Evangeline wished she had some kind of defensive…well, anything really.  She’d have settled for a large hunk of dead tree she could use as a shield.  Though she’d have preferred one of those super-fancy real shields made from those ultra-light, ultra-strong polymers blending plastic and metal in some impossible science that she hadn’t a hope of understanding.

The corridors continued to be filled with plant garbage, and the further they went along, the more they saw less easily identifiable forms of garbage, including the occasional bone, even if it was too hidden by vines and leaves to identify what kind of animal it came from.  Evangeline hoped desperately that they were chicken or pig bones left behind by messy humans, not human bones left behind by messy plants that had been made sentient and mobile by excessive genetic enhancements and/or cosmic radiation.

Soon enough, part of the answer came to greet them.  The life signs were moving towards them, and on rounding a bend, Evangeline and her family found themselves staring, bewildered, at a group of the most bizarre creatures they had ever seen.  They were human, as far as Evangeline could tell, but they looked like they were in the process of devolving into something else.  They had huge shaggy bits of hair crawling down from their faces — Evangeline was pretty sure that was what was known as a ‘beard,’ though she had never seen one in person before, and never seen such aggressive ones in pictures or movies — and the hair on their heads was every bit as wild and uncontrolled, and looked as if it had never been washed or even brushed.  (Evangeline didn’t doubt that it also smelled as if it had never been washed, but thankfully her spacesuit prevented her from smelling anything.)  Rather than spacesuits, these things before them wore ragged garments made from some flimsy-looking type of…actually, Evangeline couldn’t even begin to guess what they were made of.  Particularly thin synthetic leather, maybe?

“Looks like we’s got us some more visitors,” the one in front said, with a wide grin that exposed only a few teeth, brown and stained.  “Jebidiah, you go on an’ see to them folks’ ship,” he added, turning to one of his fellow hairy creatures.

The other one grinned, too, revealing more teeth, which were stained more of a yellow than a brown, but looked no less disturbing.  “Yes, Paw,” he said, before setting off at a lope along the corridor back towards their ship.

“Our ship doesn’t need any tending to,” Tracy said, her voice trembling slightly.  “We came to see if we could help.”

Evangeline nodded, setting a hand on her wife’s arm.  “We got your distress signal,” she added.

“Oh, that thing?”  The one identified as ‘Paw’ laughed.  “Not ours.  Folks who owned this ship set that off.”  His grin widened, making Timmy start to whimper.  “C’mon, we’ll show you ‘round.  Go on and make yerselves to home.”

Paw began leading them down the corridor, with his fellows crowding around beside and behind them, preventing them from fleeing back to their ship.  As they walked, Paw began talking about how long it had been since they had last had visitors, and how hungry they were for company, especially of “them soft lady-types,” and so on.  After a while, they came into an open area filled with living plants.  “This is where we grows our food,” he said.  “Got taters, mostly, with some corn and squash and black-eyed peas.  What all you brought to grow?”

“Um, we don’t have anything that grows,” Tracy said.  “There isn’t much left growing on Earth…”

“Shame, shame,” Paw sighed, shaking his head.  “Garden could use some fresh seed.”

“We wants meat more anyhow, Paw,” one of the others said.

“Well, now, that’s true,” Paw agreed, turning to look not at the one who had spoken, but at Evangeline and her family.  “You gals go on and take those helmets off.  Let us get a good peep at ya.”

“According to our read-outs, this air is likely to affect us negatively,” Evangeline said firmly.  “Our helmets are staying on.  And if you don’t need help, we’ll be going back to our ship and heading on our way.  It’s still a long flight to Alpha Centauri.”

For some reason, that made the things surrounding them laugh in a disturbing manner.  Evangeline had a sinking feeling she knew why, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud.

Milly was not so timid.  “What happened to the other people who answered the distress call?” she asked.  “What happened to the people who set it off in the first place?”

“Oh, them, they died,” Paw chortled.  “Most of ‘em dead when we gots here, I’ll have ya know.  Not us what done ‘em in.”  He grinned, licking his lips.  “As to them other folks, well, Jack there, he was one oncet, wasn’t ya, Jack?”

He gestured to an older man who sat on a bench nearby, carving something out of bone.  “Yeah,” he said, in a sad voice.  “I had the finest cruiser in the galaxy, good crew, the works.  But this life ain’t so bad, either.”  He didn’t sound one bit like he meant that, not to Evangeline’s ears.

“And the rest of them?” Milly insisted.  “What did you do with the rest of them?”

“Oh, depends,” Paw replied, with a wink.  “We allus needs more breeding stock.”  He leaned closer, peering into Tracy’s helmet with a wide, near-toothless smile.  “You’d like breedin’ with us.”

Tracy shook her head, fear creeping into her eyes.  “I’m a married woman!”

“An’ your husband ain’t come into space wit’ you?” Paw exclaimed, sounding shocked.  “Deserves what he gets, then, don’t he?”

“You leave my wife alone,” Evangeline said, pushing Paw away from her.  “She doesn’t want to ‘breed’ with you or anyone else.  Neither do I, and anyone who touches my children dies.”

“Ain’t no one gonna want to breed with you,” one of the other men guffawed, looking at Evangeline.  “You so brown, you look like you already been cooked.”  He shook his head.  “Them kids, too.”  A disturbing grin covered his face, revealing that his teeth had been sharpened.  “Fine by me.  Kids have such tender young flesh.”

The other men started laughing, deep belly laughs.  Evangeline took the opportunity, and shoved Paw as hard as she could.  He fell under her blow, leaving them a path of escape.  “Follow me!” she shouted, and leapt over the prone man.  Tracy and the children followed, and they were dashing down a corridor before all the laughter had stopped.

They hadn’t turned the first corner before they heard angry shouts, and cries for weapons.            “Everyone keep up!” Evangeline shouted.

“We’re doomed,” Timmy moaned.  “They’re gonna eat us!”

“Not if I can help it!”  Of course, Evangeline knew there wasn’t really a lot she could do about it, but…well, this was a big ship.  There must be places to hide, and there couldn’t be that many of them.  If they could just find a weapon, they could defend themselves, maybe fight their way back to their ship…

“What do you think they do to the ships that come here?” Milly asked.  “Could they still be on board?”

“Let’s hope so,” Evangeline agreed.  “Computer, bring up schematics of this ship!”  She wasn’t entirely certain that was possible, but thankfully, a very rough diagram of the ship did indeed come up on the screen in front of her face.  It showed them headed towards the back of the ship, their own ship halfway to the front, and lifeboat pods at the front of the ship.  “We need to get to their lifeboats,” she suggested.  “Those should be faster than our ship…”

Cautiously, she began to steer them towards the front of the ship.  With every turn they took, Evangeline saw their pursuers fall a bit further behind in the pursuit, and soon she saw their energy readings splitting up, searching in different directions for them.

Some of those energy readings had split off early enough that they lay in the path of the escaping family.  In fact, one of them was so close that Evangeline slowed them to a walk, realizing the foe was just around the next bend, not fifty yards away.  “Anyone have any idea what we can use as a weapon?” she whispered.

“Can’t we just punch?” Milly suggested.

“I doubt it,” Evangeline sighed.

“I’ll handle it,” Tracy promised, with a warm smile.  She walked confidently up towards the corner, and when the enemy came around it, she laid him out with a kick to the head.  “I wasn’t kickboxing champion of New Detroit for nothing, you know!” She said, with a light giggle.

Evangeline smiled.  “Remind me to give you an extra deep kiss when we get out of this,” she said, as she and the children approached her beautiful wife.

“You would need reminding?” Tracy asked, in that false pouty way that was so adorable.

While her mothers were flirting with each other like a pair of horny teenagers, Milly bent down and picked up the knife the man had been carrying.  “Looks like it’s made of bone,” she said.  “Eew, gross, is this someone’s leg?”

“Try not to think about it, sweetie,” Tracy said.  “We might need it.”

Evangeline nodded.  “For now, let’s get running again.”

They ran on and on, and the life sign readings mostly became further and further away, except for the one that had gone straight to the lifepod docks.  That one must have been the leader, surely.  The only one smart enough to realize where they were headed.  Many of the others were now milling about their ship, clearly expecting them to be stupid enough to go to the most obvious place in their flight.

The one life form in front of them on the ship was in the nearest lifepod dock, so Evangeline had them bypass that one and go to the next one.  Inside, they found the scrapped remains of half a dozen different ships.  In the next lifepod dock, they found a shrine surrounded by gravestones.  The center of the shrine appeared at first glance to be a scrapheap, but on further examination, Evangeline realized it had to be a very primitive spacecraft.

“That’s the ship they came here in,” a man’s voice said from behind them.  They all spun around, and Milly brandished the bone knife at him.  Looking utterly uncowed by the twelve year old girl’s bravado, Jack smiled ruefully.  “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said.  “I didn’t want to stay here, you know.  They tricked me into sharing a meal with them, not telling me I was eating my own co-pilot.  After that…how could I have returned to human society again?”  He held up an item.  “Here, catch.”  He tossed it to Evangeline.  “Key to my ship.  She’ll get you wherever you want to go.  These guys don’t have any working ships but yours.  And that thing’ll never catch up to mine.  She’s in the hangar on the end.”  He pointed back towards the lifepod dock he had been in earlier.

“Why didn’t they take your ship apart they way they did the others?” Evangeline asked suspiciously.  There was such a thing as too easy

“Couldn’t.  She’s too tough for their primitive tools.”  Jack laughed.  “Best ship in the galaxy, I told you.”

“Were you a pirate?” Milly asked eagerly.

“Well, I dabbled a bit.”  Jack grinned raggedly.  “The warrants for my arrest should have long since expired; I don’t think you’ll get in trouble for showing up in my ship.”

So he wasn’t staying out of guilt at eating a friend.  He was hiding from the law.  By joining a band of cannibals.  Well, of course.

There wasn’t time.  The life signals were beginning to head their way, fast.  “Thanks,” Evangeline said, then looked at her wife and children.  “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

The others nodded, and they ran the short distance to the dock where Jack’s ship was waiting.  It was truly a sleek and beautiful craft, painted hot rod red, with gold accents, and massive weapons.  It was the kind of ship that showed no sign of any join between the armor plates, had no visible welds or screws or anything else an amateur could open.  Hell, it didn’t even show any sign of a way on board.

“How do we get on?” Timmy whined.

Evangeline looked at the key fob that Jack had thrown her.  There were a lot of buttons on it.  A lot of buttons.  If she had to try every single one of them, they’d all end up in the bellies of those disgusting men.  “It’s got to be one of the big buttons,” she muttered aloud.  There were three:  red, blue and green.  Red was surely a bad thing.  Probably activated the weapons or the self-destruct.  She tried the blue one.  A blue shield flashed around the ship momentarily.  A force shield…?  But had she just turned it on or off?  Trying the green button made a ramp lower out of the ship.

Timmy started running for the ramp, and bounced right off the shield, making his sister laugh at him.

Evangeline hastily pushed the blue button again while Tracy helped Timmy back to his feet.  Then they all ran aboard the ship, and Evangeline pushed the green button again to close the ramp.

The controls were numerous and complicated, but a friendly on-board computer with a very sultry voice helped them take off without a hitch.  “Let’s blow that ship up so they can’t kill anyone else,” Milly suggested.

“That’s not right,” Tracy sighed.  “We can’t take the law into our own hands.  And it wouldn’t be a very nice reward to Jack for helping us if we killed him.”

“Yeah,” Evangeline agreed.  “We’ll tell the authorities on the space station at Alpha Centauri when we get there.  They can handle it.”

Milly was a little disappointed that they weren’t going to go in for a life of space piracy, but she relented soon enough.  Evangeline asked the computer about stasis pods for the journey to Alpha Centauri, but the computer laughed.

“This ship is not equipped with stasis pods,” it told her.  “Instead, we are equipped with hyperspatial inertia wave riders.  We will arrive at the Alpha Centauri solar system in half an hour.  Which space station did you wish to dock with?”

“Er…we didn’t know there was more than one.”  Evangeline looked over at Tracy, who just shrugged.  “I guess whichever one is most appropriate for a family emigrating from Earth to go to as a first step into the new universe.”

“Understood.  We will arrive at Alpha Centauri Station One in thirty-three minutes and fifteen seconds,” the computer said.  “May I do anything to help make your journey more pleasurable in the mean time?”

“Er, we’ll just explore the ship between now and then, thanks,” Evangeline said.

It didn’t actually take them the full half hour, but Evangeline was grateful for the relaxed pace.  By the time they arrived at the space station, they had all finally calmed down from their near-death experience, though the armed contingent of guards awaiting them when they disembarked brought their heart rates right back up.

“Where is the owner of this ship?” one of the uniformed men asked, looking at them suspiciously.

“He’s back on a derelict half-way between here and Earth,” Evangeline said, before explaining everything they had been through.  By the time she was finished, all the guards had put their weapons away.

“Thank you for informing us of this hazard,” the leader of the guards said, saluting her.  “We will send a patrol ship to deal with the cannibals.  And his generosity in helping you escape will be taken into consideration when the fugitive is brought to trial,” he added, with a wry smile.  Then he gestured to one of his underlings.  “Take these four to the nearest registry office,” he said.  “They will need to be registered as galactic citizens.”  He pulled a device off his belt, and began tapping buttons on it.  “They are to be compensated for the hazard they suffered, and for the loss of their spacecraft.  The receipt is number 546,314,823.”

“What about this ship?” Milly asked.  “I like it.”

“As the property of a wanted fugitive, it is impounded until further note.  Following the criminal’s trials, it may be returned to him or placed for sale at public auction, depending on the results of the trial.”

‘Thank you for your help,” Tracy said, smiling at the man and shushing Milly’s complaints.  “We’ll be going now.”

The officer saluted again, and the four of them headed out of the space port, following the guard to the registry office.  Evangeline was curious to learn just how far the human race had spread through the stars, and wondered why no one on Earth knew that the colonization had been so successful after all…


Yep.  There’s a lot that went wrong there.  (And I only managed the one thing to fit the “Notes” part of the prompt, but who really cares about that?)  Still, considering I got a prompt that was 100% outside of my comfort zone, I think I did…kinda…sorta…okay…ish?  If you squint real hard?

Didn’t help that the “character” prompt immediately said The Oregon Trail to me (not so much the real one as the computer game from the 1980s), which was not something I could easily work with on short notice, and as to the plot…ack.  Just ack.  I should take that card out of the deck so I can never encounter it again.

Writing Prompt Session 1, Part 2

Published May 28, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Picking up in a new scene that follows immediately where I left off last time


As the shuttle passed over the vast emptiness of the lunar desert, Akira decided to look  up just who the man in the portrait had been.  E was soon sifting through a particularly boring biographical entry, informing er that the man had lived altogether forever ago, and had written some book about money.  Well, no wonder the obscenely wealthy wanted his picture!

The buyer, like so many who wanted to buy illegally gotten goods, lived in the City of Darkness, the most massive of the domed cities on the moon, located in a deep crater on the dark side of the moon, using the natural walls of the crater to reduce the amount of dome they had needed to build.  Because the crater was so particularly deep, the lower levels of the city never saw natural light, a condition that suited the less cooth segments of the criminal world very well indeed.  As e liked to think of erself as the most cooth of criminals, Akira detested the City of Darkness, and particularly detested the lower levels of it.  (Akira was also not entirely certain that “cooth” was a word by itself, as it quickly started to sound ridiculous after being said one or two times.)

Naturally, the meeting place where e would be handing over the painting to er buyer was on the lower levels.  Not, thankfully, on the lowest level, but in the lowest quarter of the city, far lower than Akira would normally venture.  E tended to prefer the upper quarter, where there was better chance of escape if something should happen to the dome, and less chance of being crushed by falling debris if something happened to the city itself.

The hallway outside the meeting place demonstrated just what the criminal element often liked about the lower levels of the city:  the hall was lit by five massive bulbs, three of which were out, and one of which was flickering.  If that one steady light went out…Akira didn’t like to think about it.

The meeting was in the back room of a particularly seedy tavern.  As always, in a joint that classless, it was about half-full, most of its patrons already completely stinking drunk.  The patrons were also all obviously quite poor.  Akira went over to the bar and got the bartender’s eye, but wasn’t quite sure what to ask.  E could hardly ask if a rich, unscrupulous man had been by!

The bartender looked Akira over as e was hesitating.  “You a man or a woman?” he asked.

“No, I’m not.”

That only made the man look confused.  Apparently, everything Akira had heard about the lowest segments of lunar society was true.  Eventually, the bartender shook his head.  “You want a drink?”

Akira shook er head.  In a nicer establishment, e would gladly have bought a drink to grease wheels.  This place was far too unhygienic for that.  “I’m looking for someone.”

An eyebrow was raised.  “The ghost?”

Akira nodded slowly.  Thankfully, the way the man had phrased the question made it unclear if e was admitting to being the infamous art thief, the Ghost, or if e was looking for said thief.  One could never be too careful.  Security drones were everywhere.  Either way, of course, because this jackass had merely mentioned er criminal nickname, any drones or informants in the joint would now be 100% focused on er.  Well, fine.  Watching someone and catching them were very different things.

There was a long, pregnant pause, as if the bartender expected Akira to say something in addition to nodding.  Then the man jerked his head towards a door behind the bar.  “He’s waiting for you.”

Akira made er way around behind the bar and opened the door the bartender had indicated.  Sure enough, er buyer was waiting there, looking impatient.  “It took you long enough!” the man exclaimed, as soon as the door was shut.  “And where is my painting?!”

“Calm down,” Akira sighed, shaking er head.  “Don’t shout so much; people will hear and want a piece of the deal.  I have your painting right here.”  E removed the painting from the fourth dimensional pocket, and laid it on the table between them.  “Now, the rest of my payment?”

“Let me check that this is the real thing,” the buyer insisted, picking up the painting and inspecting it, front and back, a ludicrous gesture from a man with no knowledge of art.  Signan Platz owned half the factories that dotted the landscape of the dark side of the moon, and the ruins of his workers swarmed the lower levels of its cities in such numbers that Akira was surprised Platz wasn’t afraid to be seen in public, lest a mob of them attack and kill him in a savage expression of frontier justice.

Eventually, Platz was satisfied, and tossed a dozen or so credit sticks onto the table.  Akira gathered them up quickly, and checked their contents.  The amount was precisely correct to the last decimal point.

“Did you kill that old fool to get this?” Platz asked.

“I don’t work that way,” Akira said, shaking er head.  “I pride myself in leaving my victims unaware they’ve been robbed for months.”

“That’s not what I heard…”  A callous laugh followed the words, setting Akira’s teeth on edge.

“When things go awry, I have sometimes had no choice but to leave a trail of corpses in my wake, but that is never my plan going in.”

“Pity.”  Platz shrugged.  “I’ll have to hire someone else to deal with him, then.”

Oh, lovely.  Now e was an accessory to murder.  Because er rap sheet really needed something extra on it.

Platz was soon leaving the bar by the back door.  Akira waited until he was gone, then switched er bodysuit from its “disguise” setting to its “invisible” setting, and slipped out the door after him.  Initially, er plan had been simply to leave first the bar and then the city, but now e was curious.  E wanted to  know just why this man wanted such a boring painting so badly.  No matter how much the man in the painting had written about the amassing of obscene wealth, it didn’t make sense that these people would want to hang his unpleasant portrait on the wall.  Especially not if they had to spend this kind of money to do so.  Something was just wrong.

And if something was that wrong, Akira wanted to know what it was.  There were many reasons for this, but most of them boiled down to er inquisitive and even nosy nature.  But there was also the very real fact that if something was wrong, it might become hazardous, and if there was anything Akira wanted to know about in advance, it was something that might cause er harm.

So Akira silently followed Platz through the dim city streets, gliding unseen past countless cameras and security drones.  The people were less unaware of er:  it was easier to fool an electronic eye than a human one.  They didn’t see er, nor some cartoony outline of er, but they were dimly aware of some shimmering something passing by, as if a heat mirage was moving down the street.  Most of them were the lunar poor, so they really didn’t care. They were much too busy either begging Platz for money or spitting curses at him to wonder about the patch of insubstantial air following him.

To Akira’s surprise, they didn’t head to the residential district, but to the industrial zone, and one of Platz’s factories there.  Fortunately, the factory had a spiral moving walkway to get to the top, rather than a lift:  if there was one place er “invisible” setting was bound to get er caught, it was in a lift, particularly one with only one other person in it.  Though Platz seemed too lost in his own thoughts to have noticed er even if e was completely visible anyway:  he walked right past people attempting to speak to him—even one of his foremen—without seeming to register them at all.

Eventually, he fetched up at a brightly lit meeting room, where an entire conference awaited him.  Every person sitting around the conference table—and it was at full capacity, every seat filled with a grotesquely rich individual—wore robes of black velvet with collars woven of pure gold.  (All of Akira’s detectors were going on full overload at all the gold and other valuable trinkets in that room.  E was very glad e had set them all to silent.  Even so, e kept one hand over er wrist, trying to make sure nothing of those alerts seeped out to where they might alert these rich conspirators.)

“Took you long enough,” one of them sneered.  “Let me guess, that’s another pathetic copy.”

“No,” Platz replied with a sinister smile and a sickeningly proud-of-himself look in his eyes, “this is the holy portrait.  The real thing.”  He placed the painting on a waiting golden easel.  “Feast your eyes on the proof that I have seized the presidency.”

Several of the men rose and went over to examine the painting, a few of them with magnifying lenses, and even one with a pocket microscope.  One by one, they sat down again, murmuring their agreement that it was the genuine article.

“If we are in agreement, I would like to begin this long-overdue meeting,” Platz said, taking a seat at the head of the table.  “Now that I am President of the Society of True Laissez Faires, I am finally going to start steering us in the one true direction.”

Numerous heads around the conference table nodded assent, and Platz started a slide show on the wall.  He must have been planning this for quite some time.  The first dozen or so slides were boring introductory material, including at least three on Platz himself and all his financial victories.  Surely everyone in the room already knew all of this information (except Akira, who knew only the most well publicized parts of it), but the people around the table paid rapt attention regardless.

Eventually, Platz moved on and reached the meat of his presentation.  “As you know, our ancestors first came to the dark side of the moon in order to carry out the divine orders of the one true god’s messenger,” a gesture towards the painting indicated who Platz meant by this absurd statement, “and at first they were free to act unimpeded by governments and their interference in holy finance.”  He shook his head with a bitter solemnity.  “Alas, government eventually extended its reach even to the dark side of the moon, and they have begun imposing their tyrannical will upon us.  But no more!”  Platz slammed his fist down on the table.  “Our former president refused to act out against the government, but I will not follow his weak and cowardly example.  Our security guards have more experience and better weapons than the government’s peacekeeping forces, and we have far more security drones than they could ever dream of having.”

“They haven’t any,” one of the women around the table chortled.  She was an old hag now, but Akira could see she was once at least moderately attractive.  “They buy all their security drones from me.  And I always build an override code into my robots.  At the press of a button, they all revert to my exclusive control.”

“I knew I could count on you,” Platz said, honoring her with a smile.  “Then we are in agreement?  We take over from the government by force if it will not capitulate.”

“Don’t begin your reign with a break from procedure.”  The words were spoken in a creaking voice that emerged from a man so old that he looked more like a mummy than a living person.  “Put it to the vote.  Follow the protocol.”

Platz scowled, but duly asked for a show of hands in favor of his foul plot.  Every one of the wealthy bastards sitting at the table raised a hand.  The video camera Akira kept on er headset was recording all of it, but e wasn’t sure there was much point to it.  If these people really did have the power to take over from the government, then who could ever arrest them?

“I do wonder, though,” a middle-aged woman wearing diamonds the size of her eyes said, as she lowered her hand.  “Do you plan a simple coup, or are you going to wait until they provoke us?  I feel as though the latter might be better public relations with the other colonies, to say nothing of the miserable sods still living on Earth.”

Platz nodded.  “Oh, don’t you worry.  I will give them ample time to cooperate with us peaceably.  But the first time the attempt to suppress our holy mission with interfering laws, we will wipe them out!”

His exclamation met with applause.

“I have been studying the holy texts,” Platz said, producing the remains of a book.  It looked like it had once been a leather-bound Victorian affair, what was left of its surface mottled with gold and other decorative fripperies that served no function on a book.  “And I see nothing to forbid us from acting in our best interests as we have discussed before.  But we must act as one, or it will destroy us all.”  The others nodded solemnly, and Platz continued.  “In one week’s time, we will all make the announcement, then, that we will no longer be paying our employees.  They get time in our lovely, sparkling-clean factories, and we give them the opportunity to make our products.  On top of that, we even feed them lunch.  That is much more payment than they need.”

Most of the people at the table cheered this announcement, even as it made Akira’s stomach churn.  However, the youngest person at the table—an androgynous and attractive person, mid-twenties at most—raised a timid hand.  “But, Mr. President,” the young person said, in an alto voice, “won’t the people rise up against us if we refuse to pay them?”

“Let them rise!  We have all the weapons!”

“But who will run our factories if we kill the workers?” the youth objected.  “Robots are too costly.  We should at least provide housing for the workers if we aren’t going to pay them.  Otherwise they’ll either rise up or simply quit.”

Murmurs ran around the table, some agreeing, some disagreeing.  “I suppose you may have a point, Tinnock,” Platz sighed.  “Perhaps we need to be more subtle about it.”  He smiled at his compatriots.  “We are already renting them their homes.  We simply need to adjust their rents to match their paychecks.  They won’t even notice.”

Thunderous applause.

“Once and for all, we will prove his holy superiority over the anti-Smith!” Platz roared, and the slide show moved on to a last slide, showing a grainy, black and white photograph of an older man with a massively bushy beard.  “The workers will obediently and gratefully accept their destined position as our unpaid labor, and our holy work will begin!”

As the cheering continued to a fever pitch and the people at the conference table all rose to gather around Platz in a throng, Akira took the risk of opening the door and slipping out of the room while they were distracted.

As e passed, still invisible, out of the office building and into a plaza filled with the lunar poor, Akira’s stomach churned.  These people were already used up and spat out, broken and beaten, and now they were to be treated as slaves, too?

No.

Even a thief couldn’t stand for that.  These people worked themselves to death for nothing as it was.

Akira stepped into an alleyway and reprogrammed er disguise.  When it finished churning, the image projected around er was no longer a slight recalculation of er own features, but the best recreation e could provide of the man in that last slide, who Platz seemed to view as the antithesis of his cult’s divine messenger.  Who else to blame for what Akira was about to do?

E walked out of the alley again and found a group of the lunar poor who had gathered in front of the building.  Once e had their attention, Akira began speaking to them, calmly, confidently, convincingly.  Explaining how the bosses running this colony had been abusing them all their lives.  How the abuse was about to get worse.

How it was time for a revolution.


Okay, so my thoughts on this first Writing Prompt experiment:

  1. I kind of failed to meet the criteria of the prompt, as the fighting against the evil and dangerous cult is left for after the story is over.  This is just the prologue, the matter leading up to the hook in Act 1 of a movie, the opening of the game where you’re still badass before Death takes away all of Alucard’s equpiment, etc.  But this is just me trying to get my hand back in at writing fiction, so I don’t see anything wrong with that.
  2. This is the first time I’ve written the POV of a nonbinary or agender character, and while I think it mostly worked all right (with a few spotty exceptions where I was definitely trending more towards something gendered) I’m not really happy with the e/er pronouns I decided to go with.  They looked all right wherever it was I saw them before (like I said, I think it was in a game, but I’m not sure), but trying to write with them was really awkward.  Next time I have a character like this, I’ll pick different pronouns.  (But not they/them, because it always makes me uncomfortable to use a plural pronoun as a singular, and it sets off the spell checker every single time.  (English really does suck at this.))
  3. My characterization was almost non-existent, and Akira was way too perfect at handling absolutely freaking everything.  (Though, as I said, this is the opening of the story — or would be if there was going to be a full story — and without that magic equipment that allowed disguise, invisibility and carrying a painting around without being spotted carrying it, Akira would be much less perfect at handling things.  And if this was something full length, Akira would surely lose that equipment promptly.)  I’m not worried about it, because this was just an exercise, but it’s definitely something I need to watch out for in the future.
  4. I feel like the real star of the story was this weird, Industrial Britain on the moon world I set up.  Nothing particularly special about it, really, but the combination of Victorian callousness towards factory workers with shiny-future domed cities felt like one you don’t see very often.

Writing Prompt Session 1

Published May 23, 2019 by Iphis of Scyros

Since it’s been so long since I’ve done any writing and I hadn’t been feeling motivated to write in the entire week since I turned in my final paper (despite all the plots I have stashed up waiting to be written!), I decided to try forcing myself to write with some writing prompts.  I had my first session this morning, in the hour and a half between breakfast and when I had to leave for work.  (Well, I set my alarm for 6:00 and I don’t have to leave until about 9:00, and it only takes me about half an hour to get ready to leave, so I’ve got a lot of time on my hands!)

What I used for a writing prompt was actually a party game I backed on Kickstarter called Pitchstorm.  You draw three cards, and then have to make up a movie pitch to match them.  I’ve never played it as it’s supposed to be played, because I’m not a party person, but I bought the game, after all, to use it for writing prompts.  Anyway, the three cards are “Character”, “Plot” and “Notes,” the latter being the terrible notes given by a studio executive.

I figured I would go ahead and share these writing prompt exercises as I go, because….well, because.  Now, please keep in mind that this is a) incomplete, b) something I literally wrote this morning with no preparation and c) has received no re-writing whatsoever.  (Except that I’ve gone through and fixed misspelled words so you won’t be hammered in the face with my lousy typing skills as well as my sloppy writing.)  Even as I was writing I realized a few things in the early paragraphs didn’t agree with things in later sections of the story, but I didn’t want to waste time fixing it.  It might end up changing later on anyway.  Oh, one other thing to keep in mind is that because I decided to make the lead nonbinary, I decided to use e/er pronouns.  I’m not sure where I saw those.  Possibly in a visual novel?  Well, wherever it was, I thought it was less awkward than xe/xir or ze/zeir or whatever the other other nonbinary pronoun sets are.  (English really sucks for talking about nonbinary individuals.)

I will be finishing the story, btw.  (Whether anyone wants to read it or not.)  This is just as far as I could get in an hour and a half.  We’ll see how far I get tomorrow morning before work.  (And yes, I will eventually post those book reviews.  I’ve started the post even.  It’ll go up eventually.)


The Cards

Character:  A suave art theif [sic]

Plot:  fights to take down a dangerous cult.

Notes:  Let’s set this on the moon!


The story!


Akira pushed a loose strand of hair back into position as e stole a casual glance around the corner.  On a typical day, the marketplace bustled with life and artificial life, and today was a typical day.  Wealthy people in glistening, holofoil suits strolled casually between vendors’ machines, idly instructing others to do their buying for them, while the lunar poor scurried about hoping for a little spare change or rushed to get to the sweatshops where they earned less than spare change.  Robots confidently shopped for their masters, and transstellar slaves plodded up to the machines to purchase fineries for their human oppressors.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

It would have been easier for Akira if this had been an atypical day and the market had been deserted.  But if Akira had wanted easy, e would have become a dentist.  Art theft was not a career for the faint of heart, or the lazy in disposition.

The target’s massive complex was on the far side of the market, near the edge of the dome.  The main entrance was gated and constantly watched by security cams and armed robots, the roof access was guarded by laser turrets, and the kitchen entrance was surrounded by a small contingent of the lunar poor hoping for a handout in food from the transstellar slaves working in the kitchens.  If Akira felt e had the luxury of waiting until the dome’s solar shield created an artificial night to fool the human mind into thinking it was time to sleep, e could have put on a rocket pack and gone up to the roof:  that brand of laser turret was notoriously incapable of hitting a moving target (or any target at all, really), and what did Akira care if the dome was breached, especially since it would be patched up within minutes?  But waiting wasn’t an option.  Akira had to be on the shuttle that afternoon to reach er rendezvous with the buyer.  This had to be done quickly.

A clamor started by the kitchen doors as several of the slaves emerged, and were immediately beset by miserable humans who had an even worse lot in life than they did.  Transstellars honestly didn’t seem to mind having been enslaved by the human race:  as intergalactic refugees, they had fled from something much worse than mere humans, and as their average lifespan was a few thousand Earth years, their time in slavery was barely a blip on their inner radar.  They had only come through the portal in numbers of a few thousand, so they made very expensive property, and the wealthy who could afford them made sure not to damage them; corporal punishment was unheard of, and they were always well fed.  Their lives were as different from the lunar poor as their bodies, their slow and methodical duties in cooking and cleaning as different from grueling factory work and dangerous outdoor duties as their six arms and slimy chartreuse skin was from the maimed and starved humans crowding around them.  The elite of the lunar colonies had no interest in whether the poor lived or died, and set them to working in factories where they were mutilated by machinery, paying them so little that they were lucky if they could afford even one meal a day, and had to lived huddled up in tiny, squalid underground homes with almost no ventilation, four or five families to a room.  Those that had lost enough limbs to the machines that they couldn’t do factory work anymore could turn to begging in the streets (never even slightly profitable) or, if they were still mobile and still had a working hand, they could get a job working outside on the moon’s surface.  They could rent — at their own cost, of course — air bubbles to protect them from the vacuum of space, and scour the surface outside for valuable hunks of space rock that might provide a few minerals to feed the factories, or — if they weren’t missing many limbs at all — they might find a zealous lunatic patron to send them exploring the caverns looking for signs that the moon had once been inhabited by lunar natives.  Akira had never been sure if those lunatics were looking for women in beehive hairdos, giant spiders, or the ruins of Sailor Moon’s castle, but e didn’t really care, either.  They were valuable patsies who wanted to buy odd artifacts, and they tended not to be dangerous.

Unfortunately, today’s target was not one of those lunatics.  Today’s target was decidedly dangerous.  Akira would have to approach with caution.

Not sure what else to do, e headed over to the kitchen entrance, and stepped over a few of the lower-to-the-ground beggars, bringing er in easy conversational distance to the nearest slave.  “Is the house hiring?” e asked.  “I’m skilled in all manner of work.”

The transstellar slowly turned its huge head in Akira’s direction.  Like most humans, Akira was often unsettled in dealing with a transstellar that was looking right at er.  The six eyes weren’t at all an issue, but why were they lined up on top of each other like that?  What kind of view of the world did they get from eyes like those?  Akira never knew quite where to look, and e felt that e just couldn’t be er full, charming self without knowing where to aim a killer smile.

“The master is away,” the transstellar said, every word drawn out with laborious slowness.  The way the transstellars talked always made Akira think of an extinct — or was it legendary? — Earth animal called a sloth:  each word was formed with a slow, careful precision that made it feel like the conversation lasted forever.  The fact that each word came out of a different mouth than the word before it only added to the frustration:  e never knew quite which of the transstellar’s four mouths to look at in anticipation of the next word.

“Surely he hasn’t left you behind alone, with no one to guard you?”  The man owned no less than five transstellars; a fortune like that left unguarded would tempt almost anyone willing to touch the aliens long enough to steal them.

“The mistress is in,” the transstellar replied, every word dribbling slowly out of its mouths with the glacial pace of the night before a child’s birth celebration.  “Do you wish to speak to her?”

“Yes, that would be delightful.”  Wives were one of Akira’s specialties.  “Could you announce me, please?”

“The mistress does not allow us in her presence,” the transstellar said, its comrades producing an unsettling laughter as it did so.  “You will need to go to the front door.”

Akira did er best to smile.  “Of course.  Thank you so much for your time,” e said, even as e wished very much to get er own time back from that bloody transstellar.  On the whole, Akira felt sorry for the transstellars, but having to deal with them was utterly intolerable.

E was already approaching the front gate before the transstellar had finished telling er that e was welcome.  The robotic guards all aimed their weapons at er.  “Halt!  Identify yourself!”

“I am Monsieur Legrande,” Akira announced, with a sweeping bow, “the finest art dealer in the solar system.  I would like to speak to the master or mistress of this fine home.”

A whirring sound informed Akira that the robots were transferring er claims to a device inside that would consult the mistress.  Eventually, a panel on the chest of one of the robots lit up with the image of a woman in her late thirties, beautiful in a very artificial way, with an air of ennui that told Akira the hardest part of this job would be getting the wife to give er a moment’s peace.  Predictably, the wife’s whole face lit up when Akira smiled at her image.  “My husband is away at the moment,” she said, “but maybe you would care to come inside and wait for him?”

“It would be my pleasure, good lady,” Akira said, with another sweeping bow.  E could practically hear the woman’s bored heart swooning.

A robotic butler was soon emerging from the house and leading Akira inside and up to the parlor where the mistress of the house was lounging in a very contrived manner, as if she thought it very important to her upcoming attempt at seduction that she look casual while simultaneously finding a way to expose both her legs and as much of her cleavage as she could.  “Mistress Mary, I have brought the visitor,” the butler announced.

“Yes, thank you, I can see that,” she replied, in an annoyed tone.  “You may go.”

The butler bowed its head, and rolled back out of the room, the door sliding shut behind him.  “Please allow me to introduce myself, my dear madame,” Akira said, producing er most suave smile yet.  “I am Monsieur Legrande, art dealer to the rich and royal throughout the solar system.  I have heard of your husband’s fine art collection, and hoped I could aid him in expanding upon it.”

“Do sit down,” Mary suggested, sitting up and patting the divan beside her.  “You can tell me all about yourself — and your business, of course.”

“I should like to see the collection, if you don’t mind,” Akira said, finding erself less than interested in romancing this mindless twat.  “I shouldn’t like to waste your time or mine if the collection is so great that even I can add nothing to it.”

Mary didn’t like that one bit, judging by the scowl that crossed her face, but she knew her role as gracious hostess — the only job she had ever had, by the look of her — and rose to her feet.  “Of course.  This way.”

She led Akira to a door on the back wall, which opened only with her handprint, and into a long hallway, each wall of which was covered in paintings, with a row of statues forming a parade down the center of the hall.  The art ranged from masterpieces of great antiquity from the most revered of ancient artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Chuck Jones, to things some artist in a soil-side garret had thrown together just last weekend with more wine than paint.  Mary, of course, had a comment for almost every one of them, mostly about how much her husband had paid for them, or about which fellow rich person had failed to outbid him in pursuit of the piece in question.

At the end of the hall, hanging on the far wall in a position of special prominence, Akira found er target, but why er client wanted the painting was a mystery to er.  It wasn’t an appealing piece:  the portrait of some ancient scholar or mathematician or whatever he was, looking every bit as boring as anyone would expect.  The artistry was only so-so, and the artist was unknown.  Yet it wasn’t just Akira’s client who valued it highly:  it rested on the wall surrounded by sumptuous velvet curtains — such an absurdly ancient motif! — and Mary beamed at the painting fondly.  “This is our favorite piece,” she informed Akira.  “The portrait — taken from life! — of Adam Smith himself.”

Akira had no idea who that even was, but knew better than to admit it.  “It is quite a work,” e said, nodding thoughtfully.  “May I take a closer look?”

“There’s a field protecting it,” Mary said, “but I can turn that off for you.  Just don’t touch it, or my husband will kill me.”

Hoping that was an exaggeration, Akira stepped up towards the painting as Mary turned off the force field, stroking er chin as if in thought.  On the way up to er chin, er hand had brushed against the flower on er lapel, activating the scanner inside.  E stood there “contemplating” the painting until the scanner had enough time to take in the painting’s every detail, then turned back to Mary.  “Where did your husband acquire such a piece?  It must have been very expensive.”

“Oh, no, he inherited it, along with his position in — well — society.”  That was an evasion if ever Akira had heard one!

“Ah, of course.  I should have heard about it if such a piece had ever been on the market.”  Akira nodded sagely, then looked at Mary as if noticing her for the first time.  She blushed at Akira’s sudden attention, and stepped closer with an eager light in her eyes.

The process of seducing a lonely, bored housewife was one that felt tedious to Akira.  E never liked doing it, no matter the wife’s starting position.  When they were too reluctant, Akira felt like a homewrecker.  When they were too eager, Akira was just disgusted by the whole thing.  This time was particularly disgusting to er.  But fortunately Mary was so eager that they didn’t take even one step away from the painting, and soon Mary was contentedly sighing as she slipped back into her clothes, and saying that she would go call the butler to bring them something to eat.  Akira agreed that was a fantastic idea, and Mary turned to leave the gallery without waiting to see if Akira followed her.

Akira knew e had only a few minutes at the most before Mary realized something was amiss.  Hastily, but with perfect precision, e removed the painting from the wall, and placed it in er fourth dimensional pocket, then removed the flower from er lapel, putting it on the wall in the painting’s place.  A brief tap and the painting generated a perfect holographic copy of the missing portrait.  With luck, the theft wouldn’t be detected until the flower’s batteries wore out sometime next year.  A second flower was quickly withdrawn from Akira’s pocket to replace the one now on the wall, and Akira was following Mary out of the gallery before two minutes had elapsed.

The repast brought by the butler was so sumptuous as to be obscene, and Akira fought to eat even a quarter of the food laid out before er.  As they ate, Mary droned on at him about her childhood back on Earth, about her father’s myriad factories and mines, and about her husband’s factories here on the moon.  She was so disgustingly wealthy that she had never breathed real air, having lived in a domed castle back on Earth, outside the polluted and poisonous air the poor had to deal with.

With only an hour to go before the shuttle was to depart, Akira triggered er phone, and quickly gave Mary an appealing and apologetic smile.  “Do forgive me, but this might be important.  The art world moves at the speed of light, after all.”

Mary nodded understandingly, and Akira stepped off into a corner to flip on the phone.  A tinny recording played through it, carefully created to be audible to others in the room without being understandable.  Akira nodded several times, and finally said “Yes, I see.  I’ll be there as soon as I can,” then returned to Mary’s side.  “Do forgive me, my dear, but an emergency has just come up, the instant auction of a particularly fine piece.  I have to be there.  You understand.”

“Of course.  But you’ll be back soon?”

“As soon as I am able.”  Akira added a winning smile to er lie.  “Hopefully long before your husband returns.”

Mary’s cheeks turned a delighted crimson, and she expressed her excitement at the idea in gushing words that Akira didn’t bother to mark.  Er mind was already on that shuttle…


Yes, I know, there’s no cult-fighting in it.  But there will be.  Well, maybe not fighting, per se, but there will be an evil and dangerous cult.  I promise.

Oh, and about the previous post?  I’ve decided that I’ll just start a third blog (omg, even though I’m not yet back in the habit with the other two?) to talk about tarot and/or Vocaloid.  (Because of course those two things go together like a lime in a coconut.)

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