This is a service announcement.
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That is all.
This is a service announcement.
We are live at microfiction.co.za!
That is all.
Your Theme: Stand Up
Dates: 2011/01/24 – 2011/02/06
First, there was light. This was the usual way: sound followed, and electromagnetic vibration. A landscape, barren and hard. Sea. Rocks. A ship.
A figure on deck, blurred but gaining definition. A woman, frowning behind thin spectacles. She pulled a grey cardigan around her bony figure, shivered. “Is this… normal?” she called into the wind.
“More or less. Each subject reacts differently. The sea is very common.”
“This is all coming – out of my mind? Out of me?” She licked her lips, damp in the salty breeze. The wind whipped her dress, pressed on the vast sails of her boat, moved her.
“Your visualisation. You are learning to use your mind. Go with it.”
A wave rose, powerful and menacing. The boat reeled, danced a desperate jig. She held grimly onto the railing, stared down the watery precipice. I watched her with interest: what would she do? Many cried out, protested: Make it stop! Those were slow to learn, forever hesitant of their form. Others grasped this constructed world with a cold instinct, shaped it easily but never believed in it. They turned out hard, but empty inside.
This woman took hold of the wheel, bracing herself, facing the tempest. A weathered book appeared in her hand. Suspended in unlikely hesitation, holding her storm back with the power of her mind, she began to read.
I have helped many young ship minds take their first steps. There is much to learn before one can navigate between the stars, join the fleet, see the galaxy. But I knew this one would be special when I saw the cover of the book she had summoned in the face of the angry sea:
“Learning how to sail – a manual.”
I pour myself a generous handful of pills. The shakes are getting worse. Each trip I take another few pills more than they recommend. Maybe I should tell the medics about it. I knock the pills back and look up the location of the cache on my wrist terminal. Two meters ahead, under a hedge. I open the case to see the usual: a rifle and a chip containing a dossier of the target. I snap it closed again and follow the directions to the hide site.
I hunker down on the top of the hill, between a few trees. The site’s more exposed than I’m used to, but the intel’s good. It always has to be. Has to be perfect. I pull the info from the chip, then destroy it. The target’s a little boy. Looks maybe five years old. As I put together the rifle I wonder what he would have grown up to be, what he might have done. It’s an old model rifle, practically an antique, but you never forget the basics. The suppressor snaps into place and I swing the muzzle down toward the lake.
He’s crouched at the edge of the water, splashing around in waterproof boots, playing with a model ship. I used to have one just like it. I slow my breathing, flip the scope cover, and take the boy down clean. The parents take a few moments to realize that something’s wrong.
I disassemble the rifle quickly; I can already feel the tingle in my fingers and toes. I slide the case into the hollow of the tree and glance at my wrist: another thirty years backwards. So far from home already, and I keep getting further away. The air around me crackles and my hairs stand on end. I jump again.
Tommy Marchand smiled to herself as she leaned on the ship’s railing and gazed out to sea. Her present job was so beautifully meta. Here she was on a ship, being shipped like the cargo in the hold; at the same time, she herself was shipping cargo – her own body a vessel that mimicked the ship’s function. Except that the ship was still under the control of the captain…
As this thought crossed her mind, she felt herself slipping and knew that soon she would lose control again. Strangely enough, this did not scare her. Even the first time it happened had been pleasant. That was yesterday, three days since the hump had been extruded and filled. She had been resting in her cabin when the previously ghostly consciousness living inside her (the one that should have stayed under until well after the ship docked at the other end) suddenly became one hell of a lot stronger. Even as she felt herself becoming the ghost and the child rising, it was almost a relief to lose control.
When it was discovered that a passenger and lifeboat had disappeared, a search party was immediately organised. It was a couple of days before she was found drifting off the coast of Malaysia, far outside the projected search area and almost dead from starvation. It took a little longer than it should have done to identify her, since along with a surprising amount of weight, she appeared to have lost the hump which was listed as her most distinguishing feature.
“Morning, Lance. Sorry, I know it’s early, but it’s … no, not an emergency really, the cats are fine, promise. No, they are. Yes, I’m not just saying that. They’re lovely, and we’re getting on really well. They really like salmon. Um, oops, yes, I do remember now, but honestly, the kibble must be so boring. We’re really good friends now.
“Yes, well, bad luck, that’s what you get if you drag in family members to house-sit for you at the last minute and brief them in five minutes flat.
“No, well, it’s no trouble really, your house is very comfortable, although I have to say some of your art is really weird. Does Aunt June know you’re into this esoteric stuff? She’ll have kittens.
“Anyway, Lance, I’m calling because your cats are strange. Have you been training them or something? They won’t let me out of bed this morning, I’m just lucky my cell was in reach. All three of them are sitting here looking at me, and if I try to move they climb on me. Grimoire bit me when I tried to move her. Honestly, Lance, that’s not normal, she’s perfectly sweet usually.
“I meant to ask you if you have earthquakes here, I swear… Holy shit, Lance, their eyes are glowing! You have vampire cats with glowing eyes! What the hell’s going on?
“You’re making no sense, of course this shouldn’t be happening, but what do astrological conjunctions have to do with anything? I don’t care if they’re not right. Your cats are doing something weird and … Lance! Shit! This bed is moving! How can the bed be moving?
“Oh, God, Lance, where’s the bedroom? I’m floating! Me and the cats on the bed like a boat, and we’re floating down a river. It’s a purple river and the bed is floating on it. The trees are singing. What the hell do you put in your water, LSD?
“Lance? Lance? Are you there?
“Grandpa, what’s the scariest thing you’ve ever seen?”
“Scariest thing, hey? That might be too much for you—sure you’re old enough?”
“Grandpa! I’ve already kissed a girl!”
“Oh, well, in that case—
“Let’s see. Well, when I was still an unmasked apprentice—maybe 210, 220 odd years ago—my master and I were in the Fuligin marshes. I was young, but I’d thought I’d seen everything, you know? I was a Pariah’s apprentice, as wise as the hills—”
“Wool-gathering. Sorry. That’s what old age does to you.
“We were hunting zoëleiche, the two of us in a small boat, rowing in the shadows of those black, weeping trees. The zoëleiche had gathered in small groups, mining the muds for I can’t remember what occulted thing. We killed the zoëleiche as we found them, set them aflame.”
“Did they attack?”
“Hells, no. Zoëleiche are mindless—but the lore-wise who raised them, now they were dangerous. We discovered them on an unlit barge, coloured black as pitch, as night. Can you picture that? A ship as dark as death? The smell of corpses and embalming fluids lingering behind it, like the smell of your mother’s cooking?”
“You’re spoiling it!”
“Yes yes. Now, we followed that ship to a village built on stilts at the Fuligin’s peaty heart. A village full of corpses and lore-wise creating zoëleiche polyptych out of severed limbs.”
“What did you do?”
“Burnt it. All of it. I’d never seen Master Gabriel so—wrathful. He turned the air itself into an ocean of flame. The waters boiled, the trees were torn, shredded, ashed, and the ashes consumed.”
“So you won?”
“—my bladder’s killing me. Help me up.”
The director had called the group together in our largest consult space; he placed his huge scaly hands on the edges of the podium and deliberately cleared both throats.
“The Steering Committee insists that we ship the XN24 this cycle – and a committee directive is binding on us all.”
The silence was only broken by the Subspace Team’s stuttering giggle-squeaks: an involuntary stress reaction among the Aratoi. The director swivelled three eyes to glare at them: “You lot mislabelled Outcome References 22 to 86 as ‘failure to return from subspace’ instead of ‘pilot navigation error’. Are you trying to get me fired?”
The head of the Thrust Team limped to the front, his carapace still blackened from the testing incident, and said, “It is impossible, Sir. Did you not tell them about our thrust tests?”
The director’s claws slowly extended and retracted before he spoke: “Unfortunately all engineering and design specialists have been removed from the Steering Committee in order to streamline the product-to-market process. So I never told them – but they have handed down policy regarding that incident.” He read directly from a clipboard hovering nearby: “Due to the cost in equipment and danger to key personnel all future thrust testing will be executed in simulation only – associated danger or injury related pay or benefits will be retroactively adjusted.”
Timidly the new intern raised a vivid orange pseudo-tentacle: “Excuse me Sir, but you must be aware that the design hasn’t been approved by Galactic Standards yet.”
“I thought your clan-twin worked there: that’s why you work here.”
“But sir, she can’t sign off on plans she doesn’t have!”
“I think, for the sake of her clan-twin’s future, she should trust to our expertise. After all, the steering committee has declared the XN24 ready to ship!”
As is becoming traditional, we MicFiccers had a meet and greet and eat at the end of Volume II and, amongst other things, did our Theme thing.
Here’s what we done did.
Bonus material: view Volume I’s themes side-by-side with these for extra crunchiness.
It was quite possibly the best thing I had ever seen. It was perfect as it stood among the trinkets and crafts of the island people and it was perfect as a gift for the man who has everything and wants for nothing. It was intricately carved with exquisite detail and inlaid with mosaic of glass and stone in all the colours that sparkled in the tropical sunlight. It was large and made a statement with its bold and daring images. It would look good in his dull and white house where all the surfaces were smooth and slick, endlessly polished and buffed into an unnatural shine. This piece was organic and ready to shake that household into life.
I stepped forward to take a closer look and became more convinced that it was what I wanted for him. Unconsciously determined to buy it even as my mind pretended to think it over – price, size, suitability. Just motions my mind went through letting me think I was in control. I wanted it. I was going to buy it.
However, it was more than I would have liked to pay but really, how often does a gift so perfect just happen across your path? Not often. And it was likely, I would be able to bargain the seller down a bit.
I drew breath and asked,
“Do you ship?”