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.

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, Feb 12, 2015

My mother told me there is a place in the mountains where all unloved children go. She also told me, much later and under the influence of considerable amounts of alcohol, that I once had a half-sister.

I tried to pry. I didn't get anywhere, then or later. I consulted grimoires and rumors, oracles and old wives. They eventually led me to a place in the Winding Mountains. Led me to her.

In the days and weeks before, I conducted another search, more clandestine and and discreet, or my sister's father. I found no trace of whom it might be. Something like this makes you stare at every man of a certain age a bit longer, harder, and with less certainty.

There is a cave in the Winding Mountains. A chasm barely noticeable in the twists of rock. Repelling down, I find her. The Old Mother. She tells me she knew it in her bones, that her own children would devour her. That her first memory was tearing through her own mother, scrambling with the rest of the brood. Turning on each other.

"I wanted children," she rasped. "But more than that, I wanted to live. I still do." She was centuries old, the Old Mother. She had a brood of her own collected from orphaned and abandoned children, brought to the mountains. Among them my own half-sister, pale, subsisting on moths and bats and cave creatures. I as so confident, to that point. That I would come down and rescue her, bring her into the light. Looking at her then, in her dress of cobweb silk, the clash of our divergent biographies finally struck me. I took her into my arms for the briefest of moments (she squirmed, not quite understanding) and left her, and went back into the light.

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt Mar 13, 2015

The Ark began as barely a blip on the jagged and tumultuous horizon. Dove negotiated his way gingerly across the frozen lake, his mind focused on getting inside and resting his cold and aching servos. He's been here before. It seems the most profound tragedy of his life that the world is round. In his mind he plays over the daydream of a flat world, extending forever in all direction, nothing but unending hills and valleys and oceans and forests, unrelenting newness everywhere. On a rational level he knows there are far corners and destinations he will never visit, but standing there, facing the Ark again after ten years, he feels acutely aware of the closed system of the world.

You can run as far as you like, the road will eventually take you back home. In school they told him the Universe was infinite, so sometimes he dreams of rockets instead.

We tried to cure the warming Earth. Our attempts did not have the results we anticipated. The huddled remainder of the human race waits out the Ice Age in a crumbling, decaying Ark. They sent out two messengers, Dove and Raven. No one ever heard from Raven again. Perhaps Raven found the one corner of the world not bent and rounded. Perhaps he found a rocket.

His direction was as sure as his programming. His life would resume in the way it had before the expeditions. He would carry on, as ever, repeating the same tasks, going forward blindly into the future.

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, Dec 04, 2014

The Astronaut Lights a Candle

It was murky. Pitch black, really, which made Harley  nervous. He didn't like to admit it, but this kind of unenhanced shadow gave him the creeping willies. They'd been instructed to turn off their gear by an almost giddy Zechariah, the night's MC. Harley tried not to squirm,. Not with Bethany next to him, He knocked on the door. There was a creak, a movement barely perceptible in the darkness, and Harley felt the uneasy certainty of someone nearby.

"Come on, this isn't--" he began and was interrupted by a flash of light. A candle self-ignited. Ahead of them both, in the gloom, stood a man in an old-style astronaut costume.

Jesus, Zachariah," Beth exclaimed. "Is that you?"

The visor didn't budge. The dim candlelight limned Harley and Bethany's costumes--a Century Knight and an old-style fire fighter--in dim and flickering relief.

"Come on, Zac, is that you or what? How much did you spend on that?"

"Nothin'" Zachariah brought up the gold visor and smiled, unable to resist letting them in on the deal her got. "I have an uncle in the space program. Zachariah Hendricks seemed to have a lot of uncles. "Come on, he said. "Party's this way."

You bringing out this welcome for everyone?" Harley asked dryly, inserting himself between Zac's astronaut and Bethany's fire woman.

Pretty theatrical, no? The second set of doors, at the far end of the dimmed hall, opened to Zac's cramped and uninspiring bahcerlor pad. What had Bethany seen in the guy. Thankfully they were late enough that things were going in a decnet clip,. Musketeers and samurai, old-style lawyers and heart surgeons, made up to look unenhanced just like the ad old days. Someone, as ever, wore a toga. The decor was decidedly Old Earth, full of trinkets Zac must have got from one of his innumerable, shady, unnamed uncles. Harley relaxed a bit upon seeing Levi (seasteader) and Vikram (NASCAR driver, a bold choice, even if all the little logos did lend themselves to his predilection for puns). He knew they would run point on Zac. The bell rang, an ominous tone their host must have imported for the occasion, and the astronaut disappeared again.

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt: Jan 15, 2015

The room smelled of salt and stale air. Or would, according to Choudhry's scanner. He was breathing the recycled stuff, pressurized, hint of lavender for the high-stress environment of this abandoned section of The Diving Bell City.

What an evocative word. Abandoned. One seldom got a chance to use it, these days. Once the seas swelled and the Inland Migration began. Even now, their job was to refurbish a section of Diving Bell for more human habitation.

Collins approached the fissure. "Not lookin' good," the American drawled in imperfect Hindi.
"Finding Nemo, how's it going with you?"

"I wish you'd stop calling me that, Kulkarni admonished from outside the Bell. "Nemo didn't even meet the sharks. That was his Dad."

"Yeah, well, nobody remembers the Dad's name. How are our buddies doing?"

Above Kulkarni and Collins, and Choudry the sharks danced an intricate waltz, like bees. Only Kulkarni, the resident shark-wrangler, actually spoke their language. To anyone else it looked like a menacing swarm. "Sections eight and ten are fully collapsed. Everything inside smells too corroded to be of any use."

The Diving-Bell City was a research outpost, once upon a time, a proof-of-concept for human colonization of the oceans. Abandoned (there's that word again) when the money ran out, now pressed back in to service in the midst of an exploding refugee crisis. Outside, the sharks dove and swarmed. Choudry had the distinct understanding of what a goldfish must feel like upon meeting a house cat. They were harmless, of course. Everyone knew that. Fully domesticated, radio-implanted and enhanced. Choudhry couldn't hake the feeling, however, watching the predatory grace of these ancient beasts, how little humanity's basic assumptions about nature had served them thus far.

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt: October 30, 2014

The wind howled and whistled outside the cabin. She wan't sleeping now. She couldn't sleep now. Propped up by a waking charm, her eyes on her charge. It didn't sleep. According to the guide books, they never did.

"How old are you, girl?" The mummy asked. Its voice a whisper like dry leaves on frozen ground.

"How old are YOU?" Alice shot back. The guide books said they will try and engage, to be wary of charms and hexes, even after you had them.
I am Nine thousand, two hundred and seventy years old. I have seen empires crumble to dust, I have seen generations--
"Blah, blah, blah. Save me the cities fall to ash, systems of thought and government are forgotten, occult sciences lost to the sands of the hourglass, I've heard it all before. This is not my first rodeo."

It was, in fact, her second. Her first was at the tail end of her apprenticeship. Carraby had been there.

"Ah, a senior monster hunter, then." a coldly amused detachment shone through the scritch-scratch of his voice.

"I do ok. So, Ninety-two hundred years."

"Ninety two and seventy"

"Oh, well, ninety two and seventy. But, really, how many of those were good years? Sixty? Fifty? what was the life expectancy of the average man back in your day?" That the mummy, who had so far declined to give his name (she hoped it was one of the good ones,like Imhotep or Teth-Adam, though they would probably have put up more of a fight), didn't bother Alice as much as it seemed to bother the Federal Marshals to whom she'd been apprenticed for five years. Or polite society, which held that extending one's life beyond the generally agreed-upon century was tacky and wasteful and grounds to be hunted. What bothered Alice was that the man she was looking at could no longer be considered a man in any traditional sense. he was a corpse propped up by bandages and runes, as old as the pyramids and as crumbled. What bothered her, and why not tell the dry old zombie this, was what did he get out of it>?

"When was the last time you tasted food?" she asked. "When you kissed someone you loved. Do you even feel anymore?" The mummy remained silent. His eyes, smoldering cinders set in his skull, seemed to gaze past her to some indefinite point beyond the cabin. "I mean, if it were me, I'd kill myself."

A coughing, retching, scritch-scratch sound. It took Alice a moment to realize he was laughing. "My dear child," he breathed. "You never told me, how old you are. Twenty? Forty? So hard to tell now, in your birth skin. How fast it is gone,. How brief and fleeting are all your days. You would rather die than live as me? Truly? Because your life, so new, has never been confronted with the blackness that awaits you. One day, child, you will die, as sure as the turn of the Earth. And one day you will truly begin to understand that. Your strength will fade and your flesh will sag and your vision will blur and you will forget names and places and histories. Then the terror will be upon you. And you will do anything, anything to escape it."

The mummy relaxed his posture. He'd leaned close to Alice to further the urgency of his message. Now he was finished. Long ago, before trains and airships, before Rome and Carthage, before Aristophanes and Alexander, he had been a prince. Prince Nanefer-ka-ptah. In the bloom of his youth he imagined he would truly live forever. As did every young man and woman since the dawn of time. Reality eventually set in. He hurtled toward the end as though on an out-of-control chariot. He was going to die. He was going to die. He was going to die. He followed rumors of occult magicians in the west Let them bind him in runes. On his death bed let them change everything about who and what he was. The girl--so young, an eyeblink ago he'd been that young-was right, in part. It had been so long since he felt the touch of a lover, so long since a woman as lovely as this even moved his desire that it felt as a barely-remembered dream. There ware consolations. he felt the pull of the moon on the tides. The hum and drum of magic eddy and shift. And, foremost, he was alive. Coolly, he regarded his captor. Reconsidered his options. He began to form a plan.

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt: Jan 8, 2015

It was a myth that Earthborn had four hundred words for "ground." Muri only found eight in her reading: land, landscape, sod dirt, park, field, terrain, continent. There was excitement in Canticle all that morning, (another Earthborn word, she was certain). The delegation was coming. One hundred and one Earthborn, the first to visit Red Storm in a thousand years. Muri's mother discouraged her from feeling too excited. Earthborn were delicate, willowy things, unaccustomed to the Jovian heaviness and likely would not leave their carapaces. So she should not be making any plans to play overball with anyone. Muri was an expert on Earthborn, she knew all that, would have been the first to tell everyone at school if Miss Choi didn't bring it up first. Of course, that's where the lesson stopped. There was no mention in Ms Choi's class that we were descended from the Earthborn, that Jovian children evolved from those slender, brittle people on the third world. News pundits scoffed at the notion, dismissing it as irreligious and unpatriotic. The very idea that the people of Jupiter shared blood with the Earthborn or with the fethered couatls of Venus, the Dryborn of Mars, or the cold metallic intelligences of the Middle Belt,

"And I suppose you think the woven ships just appeared out of nowhere?" Ms Choi went on to remind them in class that day, at length, of the Parable of the clock makers, and made everyone copy it down.

When Muri got home, her mother scolded her again for being a nuiscance and speaking out of turn. That Ms Choi was wrong seemed not to enter in to it. Muri watched the news later, footage of the carbon harvesters hauling one of the great wind snakes to build a meeting place for the Earthborn, When her mother was asleep, Muri got out the big dictionary Aunt Cirrus gave her, and read long into the night.