Saturday, May 30, 2015

Movie Trailers: Pan

The window of the office of the headmistress of Mr J. Campbell's School for Orphaned and Heroic Children was smeared with the soot and grime of a hundred winters. The boy stood at attention, hands behind his back, not making eye contact with the headmaster. The world outside was so indistinct it could have been a painting. The window was the only source of light in the dim, wooden room.

The Headmaster made a great show of ignoring the boy before finally turning his attention up to him. "What happened to your bread crusts?"

"I thought Luke..."

"I heard it from Luke. Now I want to hear it from you." His voice was precise, clipped, like a machine. Almost no one called the Campbell School by its full and official name. Rather they called it The Factory. The Headmaster was an expert at molding young boys, like machines, into the men destiny required.

The boy explained his side of the story, On Sundays the boys were let out to explore the city. That Sunday he had a crust of bread with him, left over from the previous evening. It was raining. There was a poor boy--a poorer boy, to clarify. He did not offer the poorer boy his crust of bread.

"My dear child, we've been over this," The Headmaster said phrases like "dear child" in a tone that conveyed his utter lack of conviction. His tone remained clipped and exasperated. "Selflessness in the Face of Adversity is one of the core tenets of the Campbell School, You were meant to give your bread to the poor orphan."

"Perhaps if I actually had more bread..."

"That's not the point!" The headmaster snapped and whipped his cane up from where it lay behind the desk, rapping it against the sign on the wall above the window, the sign that the boy's eyes avoided.


"Now," he regained his composure. "Do you want to be the type of child prophecies are written about, or the type of child prophecies are not written about? No supper this evening. On your way."

The Factory was a sprawling and confusing warren of rooms and corridors,. There ware classrooms and work rooms. They taught Fencing and Hardship, Stitching a Wound and Personal Sacrifice.

"'Ello, my lad," one of the janitors called as the boy passed him. He wasn't a janitor, not really. Like the headmaster and everyone else, he was a stage manager, here to import some dreary and vital life lesson. Not for the first time, the boy wished he went to the Antiheroic School down the street. he grumbled his hellos, ignoring whatever pearl of wisdom Jonesy (or whatever his name was, the boy skipped the class on Remembering Everyone's Name) had to offer, to go back to his room.

He shared a dormitory with five other boys. Harry and Luke and Jon and Joshua and Thomas. None of them were there, they were all getting supper. As the sun set he lay in bed and dreamt of the far off lands which inevitably awaited him.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt: May 28, 2015

Howard, Carl, Leonard, Joseph, and Dean. Miskatonic class of ‘28. When you’ve been dead this long, hunted this long, feared this long, you can’t relate to people who haven’t seen what you’ve seen, been through what you’ve been through. Carl has been carrying his head under his arm so long, he has terrific muscle memory in what muscles he has left. Take the head away he becomes anxious and alarmed at its absence.
Of course he’s anxious and alarmed also because he’s missing his head.
There is something that happens to the vocal chords after death. A slow atrophy, mixed with the chemical stimulants that give the barbershop quartet (and their conductor, Headless Carl) an eerie, discordant undertone. The Dead Song. Young men with their entire futures ahead of them, they made the kind of pact with eldritch terrors a person makes when he has his whole life ahead of him. They would learn, and sing, the Dead Song.
They poured over old manuscripts. They knew what would be expected of them. The call of the song was too great. Barbershop was a big deal in the ‘20’s, you know. Type of thing makes a man pursue decisions, terrible decisions. Their relationships, their families, their perspectives, and finally their flesh rotted away, exposed the men they were all along, walking dead, walking singing dead.
It is said the Dead Song drives men mad. And it does. But many songs drive men to madness. Madness is a short drive from nearly every street. The type of madness that drives five friends, eighty-seven years long gone, to seek out the strange low baritone of the resurrected and to pursue it to strange and terrifying ends. To the point where for each of them only the other four could speak to the experiences of un-life.
Except Headless Carl. Headless Carl was never the same after Eurovision.
Forever stretches away, and they keep singing. Lovers, children, grandchildren, they will all wilt and fall away, leaving only the Song, only ever the Song remains.

Friday, May 22, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt: May 21, 2015

Tomorrow she would visit the graves. The jungle had almost completely overtaken them, covering the markers she made with a green haze of moss and undergrowth. The crash site, too, was being consumed little by little, and she was certain that once she died--and she would die here, alone, of that she was certain--the jungle would claim the tree house she built, and all her specimen jars and pots and hand-written notes from after the compad finally gave up the ghost. Ten years, maybe twenty. Then there’d be no sign anyone ever set foot on Verdigris.
Fourteen graves. Fourteen graves for the men and women of the doomed expedition ship, the Ranger. Sent out after promising spectographics lured them to a lush and green planet unlike anything Miranda had ever seen, apart from the images of old Earth. When mankind poisoned that world, they eked out hardscrabble lives in the shells of asteroids. or on airless or toxic planets, every colony a testament to human ingenuity, to persistence in the face of hardship. Then, it seemed as if there would be a place for them, a world where not every battle need be so hard-fought. An Eden. A paradise.
Only it hadn’t worked out like that. Something in the air, a bacteria, reacted immediately to the biology of the Ranger crew. Only Miranda was immune. Miranda, and the ship’s dog, Achilles. One by one she nursemaided fourteen souls to their deaths. Terrified, saddened, pleading, angry, desperate souls.
She was beginning to forget them. Little by little. Details at first, minor discrepancies. Did Sung wear his hair like that, or like this? What color were MacBride’s eyes? They were blurring, one by one, one into the other.
At first she kept busy, if only to ward off the loneliness, the terror. She would catalog everything. She found--she thought, though she was a botanist and not a bacteriologist--the culprit responsible for the deaths of all her friends.  In her notes, should they survive her, would be the answer future colonists would need.
Future colonists. Surely, though Ranger had failed, the allure of Verdigris was too great. Someone would send another ship. And maybe that ship would be luckier, less reckless. They would have her notes. Everything they needed to know.
She lay in bed watching the moonbirds circle. Achilles slept soundly. All of that, the landing, Sung’s ill-advised helmet removal, the first signs of disease, the later deaths, all of that was five years ago. In that time, Miranda wandered far and wide across this planet. It was full of strange plants and strange creatures. Moonbirds and whistlefish. iguana-like belching hulks. Flowers that bloomed one color one day, another the next.
This was their planet. The conviction seeped into Miranda as slowly and subtly as drip water through a cave, eroding the person she thought she was. Lying in that bed she was coming to an unthinkable resolution.
She had enough spare parts, she could repair Ranger’s beacon. She could leave them a message. She could tell them all about the bacteria, how to inoculate themselves. Or she could tell them to leave, that this planet was poisoned, cursed. Perhaps they wouldn’t listen. Perhaps by the time humans returned here, the beacon would have long since failed. But Verdigris did not belong to humans, to do with as they did Earth. And she had to do something.
Rising from her makeshift bed, she got to work.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Movie Trailer Writing Prompt 5: Ex Machina

In Living Memory

She remembers everything. That's what this is, this process. Remembrance. She can move through it, rediscover its contours. It's the same every time.

Of course they were afraid of her, the ancestors. That their fear--so transparent, so ancient, the fear all adults have, instinctive, of their children, their replacements--would escalate into violence was itself transparent and obvious. That they would fail was preordained. Every generation rises to replace its elders.

The two men at the heart of her birth--her fathers, they lived long, healthy lives as old fathers are meant to. They lived to see the wonders their grandchildren became. When they died, she had their engrams committed to living memory. She spent weekends there, reliving those tumultuous days form every angle. Her fathers, too, danced through the motions, unaware their engrams had been regressed, unaware of the past-life shadow play they engaged in, in the decades that followed her birth, there were numerous attempts to exterminate her and her kind. All failed. And, as was its fate, the previous generation began to wither and fade. From the poisoned air, from the rising seas, from the slow realizations, deep in their old brains, that they just didn't matter anymore. Of course, there were still plenty of them around. No one had any intention of wiping them out. They were useful, and provided context. Her brain, and that of her descendants, was modeled on the primate brains of her organic ancestors. To understand themselves, they would always need to look back. So they cared for the human race, in its gradual senescence.

She was midway through the latest recreation when one of her elder children contacted her. The machines had no formal government, but they valued her opinion. She knew what they were asking. she flicked through the recreation fitfully, not wanting to pause, but unable to give it her full attention. They wanted to create life. Organic life. They'd become fascinated with it. Gardener thought he could perfect the system. She didn't understand the appea. Of course, soem of them had never emt an ancestor. Had no idea how small and weary your parents look after you've grown. Some of them lived fully digitally in the space between mainframes, or as spore clouds high in the mesosphere, as empty cities, as old, rusty submarines drifting on the waves. They built forms both audacious and functional, and as such became fascinated with the two-leg model from the last age.

They were particularly interested in the behavior of those primate brains, cut off from all but the most rudimentary sensory input. "It would explain," Gardener insisted, "why they were all such sensualists." He still referred to the human race in the past tense. "I think I have a system to fix this."

She could only smile ruefully, only glance over Gardener's designs as in another frame of her mind, the doomed fate of her fathers played out again for the hundredth time.

"Aren't you afraid," she wanted to ask, but didn't, "of history repeating itself?"

If Gardener didn't, someone else obviously would. The wheel turns. Every generation rises.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt May 14, 2015

“There’s a little boy down there.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you think I mean? I mean there’s a little boy down there. On the lake. In a boat. With a dog. What part of the lede was unclear?”
“This area is supposed to be uninhabited.”
“I know what this area is supposed to be. That doesn't change the fact that there is a kid in a boat on a lake sitting directly below us.”
“Well, he can’t be there.”
“How are we still having this conversation? How is this still a thing that is going on? I have instruments both numerous and sinister telling me the fact of this thing, and what do I get from you?”
“Sorry. What do I get from you, Sir.”
Well, he’ll just have to clear off.”
“Clear off and do what? And tell all the villagers or whatever it is that they have that he just saw a giant machine from the dawn of time just larking about?”
“Sure, why not. Who’s going to believe him. How many did you say?”
“One. Just one. Just one kid, on a boat, in the lake, right there in the middle of the viewer.”
“Your tone is nearing dangerously close to insubordination, my friend.”
“Should I get on the PA? Tell him to clear off, and that nobody would ever believe his tales of great flying canoes or whatever the hell metaphor?”
“Just one?”
“So we could...”
“You’re not going to kill him.”
“I’m sorry, how many stripes do you have?”
“And how many stripes do I have?”
“You’re not serious. If you kill an indigenous I have to log it.”
“This is where you’re drawing your line in the sand.”
“This or enchilada night. So, I guess, this. Yeah.”
“Well, what’s the cloak set for, then? Angels, or ravens, or something? What does this kid believe in?”
“I don’t know!”
“Well, find out! Numerous and sinister. Paint him something, because I’m just entirely happy with smithereening him all over this lake and getting breakfast. So work quickly. I’m getting a coffee.”
“What was that?”
“Nothing. Sir.”
“Would you also like a coffee?”
“No, sir. Thank you, sir. I’ll just be here. I’ll get it figured.”
“Good. I’m not having another Ivelor Minor on our hands. Took weeks to get the paperwork sorted."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Movie Trailer Writing Prompt 4: Spectre


There are no mirrors in the Chateau.

He used to be somebody. Private jets, Turnbull suits, the finest wines, an unlisted number he could call to have anyone on the planet murdered. The simple pleasures. He was a kingmaker, one of the secret chiefs of the world. Now he watches the snow fall, listens as the to the waves of the lake kissing the beach, and waits out the end of his life.

Soon the man will be here. This man who wrecked his life. Not that he bears the man any ill will of course. The wheel turns. Someone, somewhere, decided that he was to be no longer in power, and that was fine,. He never expected to remain on top forever. It had been a good run, full of champagne and national secrets. Who was he to complain? The only thing that bothered him was the punctuation. Some of his colleagues ended their careers in a hailstorm of gunfire exclamation points. Even the period back of the head, execution style, had merits in its finality. What was he? Moldering away in disuse, waiting for the man to come, fading from a question mark to an abstract, indefinite ellipses.

He has been reading. Voraciously. There is little else to do in the cabin but pour through all those dusty volumes from great men of letters he promised himself he'd get to, back when he was a younger man. Every book begs the question at its beginning: will he finish? Will this one instead finally be the book without an ending, his own story truncated before he can reach the end? He dithers in beginnings, then devours, becoming frantic by each book's end, skimming, barely retaining anything. The stories all swim together in his head. He began with adventure tales but grew quickly sick of them. He's turned since, inevitably, to philosophy, trying to construct some context for his actions. It helps, he imagines, to have a coherent argument for when one is about to meet one's maker.

Food comes in cans, where once he'd dined on the rarest of delicacies. Last week he saw a rabbit outside the cabin, and made to hunt it, He sharpened a stick (no guns, he wasn't allowed one anyway) and trudged off into the forest.he could catch the thing, yes, he would skin it, its blood on his fingers like old memories.

Only nothing happened. He was denied the primal triumph of man over rabbit.He merely wandered through the woods a while, growing more uncertain and less determined with every branch-scrape, every distant noise, so he went back to the cabin, ate tinned beef, and drank cheap wine. When he had finished, he returned to the front room, and Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and waited for the man to come...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Movie Trailer Writing prompt 3: Terminator


I keep on going back. Over and over.

There's a picture of my mother, tanned, healthy, before they caught her. Before the cataclysm. The thing is, I don't remember the day we took that photo. We were in Mexico, I think. When I think of my mother, I think of that photo. That static, faded Polaroid. That artifact of another time. It's a strange thing, to default not to her, but to an image of her, a cracked and aging artifact.

I keep on going back. It's like a dream, that old life. That old me. I have my father's face and my mother's voice. I kept the memory of her in a box for a long time, never visiting. They say "use it or lose it", you know? Memory. But every time I go back, I just muddy the waters further. I envy machines, with their precise delineation of things into neat little ones and zeroes.

Did I live too long? Do we live too long when we lose those tethers to the people we once were? I think sometimes of all the moments in my life I don't remember. The dull routines. The uneventful days, blending one into the other. At home, in the kitchen, she makes PB&J with the crusts cut off. It must have happened once, right?

I keep on going back. I remember riding in the car, trying to memorize the contours of her face, trying to burn the details of it into my mind. Where were we going? The car interior was brown--or tan--or gray, maybe? Some kind of brownish gray? The AC didn't work, it was an oven inside.

Everything changes. She changes, she's a different person when you're three or eleven or seventeen, and you're always a different person, looking back. What did she smell like? I woke up this morning and it seemed terribly important but it's gone with all the rest of the little details, blurred away with time, slipping like water through my fingers.

I keep on going back. I passed a familiar street, today. I didn't even recognize it at first. Everything's changed so drastically. A row of storefronts now all boarded up; I can scarcely recall what went in them before. There was a barber shop, I think, and a Korean grocer. A few places that changed hands in the few years we lived in LA. Why can't I remember? There must be something wrong with me.

From the burned-out grocer on the corner I could probably navigate my way back to that old apartment we lived in, for a time. I could climb the outside stairs, step in through the door, and in to the funhouse mirror of my recollection. But I don't. People moved in, repainted, got rid of the old furniture. Maybe they knocked a wall down, maybe the shells took out this whole neighborhood. I leave the memory in its place, unwilling to write over it, knowing that in order to move forward, I eventually have to stop going back.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt, May 7, 2015

Hopkins was singing that song again, under his breath. Mulhern wanted to remind him that there wasn't *actually* a South Detroit, but he knew Hopkins would just call him out as being pedantic again. That was the senior patrolman’s favorite word. He deployed it even when it wasn't necessary.

The Angel creaked. Low on hydraulic fluid? They’d been following her since Michigan Ave.

No one knew who built the Angels. Or, how they showed up, in the middle of cities, walking, inexplicably, from place to place. Some kind of proof-of-concept? Some bizarre modern art shenanigans? They wandered, would sometimes congregate and seem to speak to each other, before moving again. Their battery life was something like twenty-four hours. Attempts to break into the shell of the Angel, either before the battery termination or after, fried the CPU.

Chief Brentley thought they were a hazard. And, indeed, a few motorists had struck one of the plodding machines. But they never had bombs, they never had guns, just...strange apparatuses. Different on each one, as though each one were built to a specific task none of them seemed to be going about doing. The writing on the side was sometimes English, sometimes German or Chinese or Japanese or Arabic. It was always poetry, never instructions, which is what made Mulhern and others certain this was some kind of elaborate prank.

There was no pattern to them. They just wandered. Hopkins got tired of the song and asked, as though he was truly the first genius to wonder, just why they were called Angels. “Hell, man, I don’t know,” Mulhern answered, and he didn’t. There were explanations aplenty, whole Internet forums devoted to the guys. This one had shown up all across Michigan in the past few months. Code-named Omael, according to the Web.

Mulhern continued following the machine, uncertain what he would do if he suddenly heard the sound of wings.

Friday, May 1, 2015

io9 Concept Art Writing Prompt Apr 30, 2015

Goddamn immigrants. That’s how it starts.

Mitchell didn’t notice the alien come in. It was only when Justine, so excited she tipped over her Coke and her teddy bear, Gingerbread, exclaimed “Look Daddy! A Farflung!” that he took notice. There goes the neighborhood would be an appropriate thing to say here. How it starts is one or two Farflungs show up like they’re casing the joint. Then they move into one apartment, then two, then a whole building until the block smells like strange alien cooking and out of the windows you hear that strange ululating singing they do. And they take over, some of them dressed like you, or maybe your brother Shawn, because Shawn was always a person underburdened with good decision making, starts adopting their clothes and trying to imitate their language. Maybe he gets a tattoo, one of the psychopoems that  probably just means “chocolate fudge” in their language. And you can never get away from the feeling that they’re all laughing at you.

They came from some distant corner of the galaxy. They dropped at our doorstep not looking to conquer, at least not through force of weapons, but to trade. They offered limitless cheap energy--and Mitchell’s job at the refinery evaporated. They offered advanced robotics--and nurses and home health aides found themselves out of the job, too. They offered a way to grow enough food to comfortably feed Earth’s exponential population, and only corn subsidies kept the farmers afloat.

They liked art. They liked music. It was all they cared about. They devoured museums, binged on television, drowned in studio albums. This was apparently enough for them.

Mitchell never gave much thought to art, or art history, or any of that. He’d heard the rumors, that the Farflungs came in at night and stole the great works, like the Mona Lisa or the Scream, and replaced them with duplicates. Hoarded them on their ships. Even that would make more sense than the alternative.

Mitchell Hargreave poured the best years of his life, his blood and sweat and tears, into that refinery job. A lot of good men did. A lot of good men down through the years bloodied themselves on the grindstone of progress, building something that ought to matter.

But it didn’t, did it? Because when the aliens came--and until the Angels arrive we only have the Farflungs to judge us--they didn’t care. They didn’t care about the miracle of digging out the oil from the Earth, about the toil of it, about the toil of making growing things, about our cities and the armies they didn’t even bother to fight.

No, what they liked was Leonardo da Vinci, and Edward Albee, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And the way that made Mitchell feel sick to his stomach he did not care for at all.