Thursday, April 23, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt April 23rd, 2015

Marco paused to gather his breath by the folly. He checked his gun. This was a habit, the gun checking. He'd never fought in a war--none of them had, wars were so rarely performed any more--but he imagined they involved a lot of stopping for your breath and checking that your payload was what it was five minutes ago. No sign of Olivia, or Chanchai, or Mei..

The folly was built to look like one of the old NASA cruisers that prowled the scant distance between Earth and the Moon. Looking at it, Marco was reminded of the stories of the first sailing ships, which clung to sight of land for fear of getting lost in the blue vastness of the ocean. Mei's estate had several of these follies, each a fanciful rendition of some wrecked ship out of the past, and she delighted in the war games they played throughout the ruins. 

Marco had played so many war games he had the astoundingly obtuse notion he might do well in a real one. Mainly they involved paint guns and the vast trackless desert of Mei's Ganymede estate, but still: how much daylight really stood between that and the Chalkydri invasion? At this was real life, and not VR. 

Not that Marco would ever dream of telling his Grandfather this. Grandfather Cortes, who lost an eye to the birds in their assault on Galilee. Who had manned a battlesuit in the black above Io, who punched a Chalkydri war dragon with the thing so hard it spun off course and fell into the Second Great Spot. Grandfather Cortes would laugh that laugh of his if he knew how Marco spent his weekends, that long chortle that fell apart in a phlegmatic mess, as he reached for a handkerchief and wiping his eyes. 

He spied a glint of something in the old cockpit, and crouched low. Mei? Chanchai? He moved deftly, silently, to the hole in the fuselage near the blasted-out engine. Whoever built this thing did a crackerjack job. Inside it was stifling. Marco flipped his helmet back on to power up the coolant, then thought the better of it. Heironymous Arcadio Cortes, the Blind Man of Io, would laugh himself to fits at this. No, he wanted that stifling, still air. It was real. A genuine thing.

He checked his weapon again, and moved toward the cockpit. Their games had played through these wrecks so many times, Marco felt as though he knew the ships by heart. Finally, finally, he would have the drop on Mei. He pictured the look on her face. She so loved that sniper position. He was giddy as he approached the porthole. Raised the rifle. Crept those last few inches.

And felt paint slap against the back of his neck.

"Gotcha," Chanchai said. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt Apr 2, 2015

His Imperial Countenance, Lord Thaddeus VII the Imperfect, got to hold the candle. Lord Thaddeus always got to hold the candle. That's what separates royalty from us rubes. It was true back on the Old Sod, it was true on Saturnine, with its flute trees and its Endless Migration.

The candle stirred the chalk-white quickmoss on the nearest of the flute trees, the great blue beast of the tree changing its sighing pitch ever so slightly. Legend had it the first settlers went quite mad camped next to the Singing Forest. Me, I'd been recording the sounds off and on (in my leisure time, obviously, not on Lord The Imperfect's time, oh, no, no sir) learning every hum and whistle of the Singing Forest.

There were nine of us in Lord Thaddeus' retinue, not counting His Imperial Countenance Himself. Rocket weavers, pikemen, myself the bard, and the birders, the ones who'd spent their lives studying the birds of the Endless Migration.

Saturnine's air density is much greater than that of the Old Sod. The birds here never land but once in their lives, to lay eggs and then to die. They don't even have proper feet anymore, just long tails where their feet once were, useful for scooping up prey.

Pinktailed slimwings dodged around each other in the clearing. I wanted to take out my recorder; the birds were having some kind of effect on the trees. I knew better, though. I had dreams of performing the symphony, but that's all they were. I couldn't let them metastasize into hopes, into plans. Sometimes dreams are too precious for that.

It's only the royalty that create art. They're bred for it. The best and the brightest, the most intelligent, the most beautiful. A commoner's dalliance, no one's going to sit through that. One by one the slimwings circle the nearest tree, their tongues reaching to the quickmoss furtively. The candle has done its job, drawn out something—who knows—in the moss that attracted the birds. They responded to something deep and true and unknowable within themselves. Governed, as with their unceasing flight, by instinct.

We hold these truths to be self evident.

Friday, March 27, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt Mar 26, 2015

The commotion happened at the edge of Castleton's vision. A flurry of motion and a dull, wet thwack. He wanted desperately to look, to pry his eyes to the right, but the caterpillar was already examining him. What was wrong with that one? he thought but did not ask. You don't speak to the caterpillar. You especially don't speak to the hunchbacks.

Before the tenders arrived, Castleton tried to lighten the mood. Gallows humor, all that. Called it the "disassembly line". Made a crack about abattoirs. In retrospect, with what's-his-name being dragged just out of sight, a trail of blood ruining the tenders' carefully sanitized environment, he realized how crass the whole thing came off as, how transparent and needy was his need to be liked and thought of as clever, even now.

He could murder someone for a coffee. Even crappy vending machine coffees. Castleton came to coffee later in life. He missed out on its subtle pleasures, skipping from soda straight to the hard stuff, until a mere couple of years before the invasion. After he'd been drinking coffee steady (Jane got him in to it. It was her vice originally.) for a few months he marveled at the universality of it. Not just the shops and bodegas scattered everywhere, but pots cooking in diners, aforementioned vending machines, the questionable gas station fare. Whole industries devoted to growing, cultivating, shipping, grinding, roasting, packaging, marketing, distributing, selling this one product that was so universal as to be taken completely for granted. All gone now. Probably the beans too, hard to know. The invasion bred an instant blackout. Castleton had no news of the wide world beyond about a five mile radius. No idea about the President, about his parents, about Jane.

The invasion happened swiftly. They were as ants before a corn thresher. Completely immaterial to the process. All those centuries of history, those monuments we built to ourselves, the petty wars and hopes for the future, rendered moot almost offhandedly, listlessly. No one knew precisely what they wanted. They rounded up people, roughly corralled by gender, fitted them with restraints, and led them into the great new structures on the horizon of every city, not so far to be seen again.

There's a certain despair to not being at the top of the food chain anymore. He envied deer. Castleton's father took him hunting, ages ago. A deer isn't self-aware enough to give much thought to how it sits in the whole scheme of things. It's life is all leaves and grasses and just keep moving and hey look there's another deer I kind of find attractive, let's see if I can mate with it Oh crap! I'm dead! No time to worry about the meaning of it all. No deer gods who promised they'd be put up to rule over all the beasts of the Earth.

In the holding pens, before they were fitted with the magnetized boots and weighted gloves, the men reminisced about who they were before the world ended. Doctors and lawyers, plumbers and mail clerks, cops and criminals. The distinctions didn't matter. Guys shared old stories from back before the end fo the world, clingng on to that version of themselves. Castleton didn't volunteer his story. For all sorts of reasons. First of which, small-time Providence, Rhode Island coke dealer just didn't have the same ring to it as the guy who was a sergeant in the Marines. For another, he knew they had it all wrong. They weren't who they were before. Those men they were before weren't going to get out of here. They would have to be something else. Of all of them, the Marine sergeant seemed best to understand that.

The man next to Castleton was tense. Which was saying something, because they all were tense. They were about to go to the body farm or whatever the Christ it was. But there was something else. Something Castleton could almost taste in the air. The man next to him, just out of the corner of his eye, was planning something. He realized, straining with his eye while trying to appear not to strain, that it was the Marine. Gilchrist, or something.

It occurred to Castleton to do something he would never before have considered. He was not a brave man. Not by a country mile. He spoke to the silkworm.

"What was wrong with him?" he asked, but the robot (were they robots? They seemed metallic and light-up)  did not answer and continued to consult the holographic display that was, cryptically, listing all of Castleton's vitals. "Not eat his Wheaties, or something?"

The silkworm looked up, its metal expression of course unreadable. But he held its gaze for a beat, which was long enough for Gilchrist to move.

Some of the resistance were outitted with a chemical device. Almost impossible for the tenders to detect, or so went the rumor. Castleton had only faith that it wasn't some bullshit. Gilchrist bear-hugged the silkworm and suddenly the both of them were gone in a deafening flash of light. At once the men were moving, away from the explosion, away from the tenders, and out into the wintry daylight. CLANK CLANK CLANK their heavy metal boots rang against the concrete floors, before out into the snow and the gun turrets.

All around him men fell, but somehow Castleton escaped, made it past the wire fence, and through to the woods. He had no idea how long he would have or how dearly this all would cost him. He only knew that he must keep moving.

Friday, March 20, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt: March 20, 2015

It was when Xorcthul the Unspeakable knocked on ​his window--for the fifth time that morning--that Charlie Hsing really, really wished he'd gone to Arizona State instead.

Xorcthul the Unspeakable wanted to play hackey sack. He was mad for it. One of the other exchange students, Denny Poe (of the Denny Poe Memorial Park Bench out back) got Xorcthul the Unspeakable and Klv!graxxx of the Thousand Horrors and Mitch the Unliving in to it the year before, apparently, and now it was their chief means of interacting with the world.

Nick would be there. Charlie turned on his side and ignored Xorcthul. Pointedly, or as pointedly as one can while turning one's back to a razor-fanged three-brained demon with a limited understanding of human social cues.

Arizona State. Where you're not one of a handful of human beings on the whole campus  (especially following the untimely and difficult-to-clean-up-after death of Denny Poe), where the Sun Devil is just a mascot and not a literal Devil made out of the collapsing hearts of a hundred billion living suns, like Pandaemonium College's faculty president. Should be on all the brochures. But then, MC did offer him a full ride.

Nick and Charlie. Charlie and Nick. They met in Epidemiology of Mass Communication, a 350 they both placed in to. As two of only a handful of Earthplaners (RIP Denny) they were expected to fall for each other. And so what if he did? Fall, that is. Charlie. For Nick. Who was currently dating Mitch the Unliving, and Mitch the Unliving's extensive collection of execrable college rock and briefcases full of human skin.

Well. Some of it was human, anyway.  Probably? One more semester, he told himself, drawing the blanket over his head and ignoring the alarm runes that told him he had class in ten minutes. One more semester and it's study abroad.

Maybe he'd meet someone nice in Acheron

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Steal this pitch, FOX

Of all the myriad things to which Ichabod Crane had failed to acclimate himself, the constant and irritating presence of unnatural light was perhaps the most insidious. Even here, in a cement bunker beneath Washington D.C., it was as bright as daylight. White. Flickering. If he closed his eyelids it would do little good. In his day, but, well, he wasn't in his day, was he?

Agents Redmoon and Finch (the latter speaking incessantly all day about getting his hands on something called tapas) swiped their key cards in unison, and a great iron door at the end of the long white flickering cement hallway scraped itself open. Beyond the door and the two men there was a figure, as garishly lit as the outside. He?--she?--it was difficult to determine, both, either, neither--was the color of bleached bone and dressed in what appeared to be moldering brown rags, but which, upon Ichabod's closer inspection, revealed themselves as a uniform of some kind.

"This," Redmoon said, "is the Horseman of Famine. He has been in the service of this country since 1938."

Sleepy Hollow is super-owned by people who are not me. Consider yourselves Disclaimed.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, Feb 19, 2015

The dragon decamped from a book about itself. Most of us had never seen a dragon, though there were dozens of books on them in the vaults. It was cute, in a smoldering sort of way, enough to make you forget, at least briefly, it was a fire-breathing lizard in a building full of paper. Of course, more alarming was how the thing arrived in the first place. Daisy Buchanan didn't crawl out of The Great Gatsby or Benedict Arnold out of A Schoolchild's Illustrated History of American Traitors. What was more, the printing within the book (Verclamps' Collected Taxonomies of the North Eurasian Microdrake) had faded and blurred and disappeared as the drake uncoiled and accustomed itself to its surroundings.

"Something else is at work here," the Professor mused. We scoured the vaults. More books were found to be empty, though we did not find the creatures they described. The Professor mused further that the drake escaped something else. Something only rumored to exist. Something which no volume, no tome could describe.

He called them silverfish, jokingly. They moved through the text of a book. They ate stories. The apex predator feasts on ideas. We studied Verclamps' tome to find any reason why the drake would have survived the process. Eventually, the Professor maintained, the ideas in texts wouldn't be enough to contain the silverfish. An outbreak would surely spread to our own hearts and minds.

He worked tirelessly at the problem. I had only been apprenticed to the Professor for a few years. When I first arrived at the Vault, and for many a month following, I found the man to be a pompous windbag. But faced with this problem, he showed his true aspect. 

He created a cage book. A complete history and taxonomy of the silverfish, its language, its dimensions, culled from the distant recesses of his memory. By describing, by naming, by circumscribing the creature, he imprisoned it, finally, in a tomb of words, a prison of description.

The drake we kept as a mascot.

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, Mar 05, 2015

The Legendary Moment

Longspur grasped futilely as his c7 camera phone drifted away from his hands. Selfie denied. Next to him the mouser he just released watched him quizzically, trying to process what this writhing strange figure was doing. It began to float away, its lungs adjusting. In a few hours it'd drop, like Longspur's phone was beginning to drop, into the heat and pressure and radiation of Juno. It would grow wings within twenty-four hours and begin the search for its prey, the feral carbon zeppelins of Juno's middle atmosphere, pests who fed on the gas miners. It took thirty years to engineer the mousers, thirty minutes to release them into Juno's atmosphere, and thirty seconds for Longspur to lose his phone. He tilted away from the creature and floated back, letting the wind drift him back before he turned on the actuators in his suit. The phone had in-built rockets, or was supposed to, but then the c7's were hardly reliable. He tried to call up the phone on his wrist comm, but got nothing. Oh, he'd never live this down. Behind him, Finch and Hatch caught the winds and made their way back to the sky station. The mousers around them plunged into the clouds.