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The reception hall was light, airy. Most of the creatures there were partying, congratulating themselves after a hard fought negotiation that had left both galaxies better off. Most, except for two ambassadors that were huddled in a corner, trying to avoid the delegation from Sol.

“Oh you didn’t.”

“We did.”

“You just went and threatened Earth.”

“It seemed logical at the time. I mean, they love the place so much, but it’s only a planet.”

“I know exactly what you mean, it’s crazy how attached they are to the place. Do you want to know a secret? I probably shouldn’t tell you this but…”

“Go on.”

“They aren’t really a part of our alliance. We just leave them alone out there on their spiral arm to weed out extragalactic invasions from that quadrant. Means we can put our defences elsewhere. All the locals learned ages ago, but newcomers fall for the same trap every time; you can fight them, conquer colonies, obliterate navies, whatever you like. But point one planetkiller at Earth and they get-”

“They just got that look. In their freaky binocular eyes.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

“So, what did you do?”

“We had an amazing invasion force, backed by giant mechas.”

“Classic.”

“Really? We thought it was pretty special, the mechas were- but I suppose it doesn’t matter now. You know, they burnt a continent to get rid of us though. How many times can they do that, realistically?”

“You’d think that wouldn’t you? Have a look on your way past, they’ve probably rebuilt it already.”

“No thanks. If I have to see those smiles again…”

“Urgh, yeah. So creepy.”

“Don’t look so down ambassadors, negotiations finished, everyone wins. Have a drink!” The two froze as a species-appropriate liquid was plopped into the cybernetic augment or pseudopod of each one. The human smiled, mouth too full of teeth in between the bristles on its face, then left, calling out to another species.

Each ambassador said something untranslatable from their own language.

“Do you think he heard us?”

“I’ve no idea. Let’s never find out.”


HFY!

345 words

Panroachia

“I know you love my stories really.”

“I know you love rambling about the space rangers.”

“Okay. One time, we went to a planet that had too much water. By the time the inhabitants had industrialised they’d melted aaaaaall their ice and flooded everything. The only things left were huge floating plastic clumps, covered in cockroaches. Because-”

His grandsprout chorused the familiar last words.

“No matter how far you go, the roaches got there first.”


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It Contains Multitudes – Scifi Gothic

Theodora fled through endless corridors. She glanced back, flickering plasma illuminated no pursuer. Had she escaped?

The robot burst through the bulkhead, its impossible strength demolishing the structure. It opened its arms.

“Oh my darling, come here,” it said, with a feminine voice.

“Mother?” They embraced. With an internal grinding noise the robot’s voice changed. Became cruel, masculine.

“Now you are mine.”

Theodora swooned over its shoulder. Then, unseen, slipped a spanner from her sleeve.

“Haunted robot, my foot. I’ll fix you.”


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Can We Help?

“It’s art, Mum,” said Eric. “I thought you would understand.” He had all of the hurt a teenager could possess. “Maybe all your ‘patients’ are just creative.”

“This isn’t art.” She grabbed the pebble stack that had been hidden at the back of the bookshelf, ruining their careful balance. “It’s obsession.”

At work she took a new, unethical route. Instead of treatment she encouraged them. Gave them rocks of varying sizes, shapes and textures. She had to know what was happening to Eric.

The patients loved it. They were all, if they took a break, desperate to help with anything they could, especially cleaning. The ward sparkled.

“Can we help?” they asked. “Can we help?”

One, Pete, was so far gone that he had no time to help. She found herself spoon feeding him as he stacked, holding bottles of water to his lips so he would drink. He muttered a phrase, too low to hear, but the same shape every time.

“It’s not for you, it’s for the Earth.” He would say when asked. No matter how she tried, she couldn’t make out his words.

Eric found the solution. She’d been telling them all about the frustration of trying to listen to Pete. Eric looked up from his rocks. “Remember when I thought spies were cool?” That had been twelve months ago. “I have a spy microphone in my drawer. I’ll get it for you!”

She pinned the microphone to Pete’s shirt. He paid no attention. She listened to his mumbling on her phone.

“You’re dirty. Can we help?”

She repeated it. Pete stopped. He smiled at her with relief.

“You’ve heard it too.”

“It’s a message?” she asked.

“Yes. I hope the Earth listens. It should be clean.”

“Do you think it will reply?”

“Not where we can hear.”


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First Contact Troubles

The ambassador was a mess of ichor and shattered exoskeleton.

“I treat humans,” the doctor stammered. “Could a vet-?”

“Until we break through that mob, you’re all we have. Now save him!”

“There’s no pulse, no breath. He’s gone.”

“Oh for-” the nurse pushed past. “He doesn’t have a heart, of course there’s no pulse.” She bandaged the worst wounds and began to pump insectile limbs. More fluid leaked, but then – a shuddering breath.

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Pain Then Pleasure

“Oh,” said the man, delightedly. “Do you know, I’ve been at this all day and you’re the first to agree to my terms?” He shook Pete’s hand. Pete shrugged, he was up for experiencing some extremes.

“So,” said the little man, “one hour of the worst pain you can experience, followed by an hour of the greatest pleasure.” He led Pete to a bare room and sat him on the floor. He closed the door as the screaming started. It didn’t take long before even that stopped.

Two hours later he opened the door to stop the pleasure. The screaming returned.


 

101 words.

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The Failure of Strike Team 1, or: Don’t Forget The Pheromones

“Please,” said the worker, releasing an acrid smell of fear. “Is non-combatant.” The soldiers stared at his dropped weapon, more like it were racked against the walls, organised by type. One of them swore.

“It’s a rake. We’re in their bloody garden shed.”

“Restrain it and move, the queen must be in the big structure. Mind the mandibles.”

The ground outside rumbled and burst, as chitinous titans emerged.

“Ah,” said the worker, “is combatants.”

 


I wrote this for a Chrons 75 word challenge, but it wasn’t close enough to the theme. So I wrote another one for that instead and put this here.

The Free Henra and the Cunning Plan

The dirigible Free Henra hove from the cloudbank into the eternal blue of a daytime sky, to find two enemy warships waiting for her.

“Look panicked, everyone,” Captain Emini called. She stood firm as their sudden turn pulled a less-prepared shipman off his feet and left him red-faced on his security line.

“The enemy have us outgunned, and outmanned,” she continued, as a warning shot passed their prow. “They are better armoured and faster. They are stuffed full of highly trained marines. In short, they are overconfident. Let’s teach them a lesson they won’t forget.” Her crew gave a small cheer to her speech as they worked, concentration showing on every face.

Emini kept her ship above the clouds just long enough to make sure the ambushers were following, then plunged into the stifling grey sea. She flipped infrared goggles over her eyes to check the enemy position and smiled, satisfied. No doubt they were likewise following the glow of Free Henra’s engines.

The first projectile passed to their port, followed by its whipcrack report a moment later. The pilot, Little Ben, yanked them starboard then cut power to the lift crystal for one lurching second to drop their height and spoil the enemy chase gunners’ range.

“Steady Ben,” Emini said. “We’ve a ways to go yet.”

“Won’t get there at all if we ain’t in one piece,” he grunted.

“Let’s see if we can’t slow them down a little for you,” she smiled. “Ready mines! Timers spread ninety to one twenty. Release!”

Nearly a hundred small packages were released from the back of the dirigible, concealed by another evasive lurch. Their balloons were carefully calibrated so that some rose slowly through the murk, or sank, forming a lethal and invisible cloud of their own. The explosions would do negligible damage to the armoured ships, but the shrapnel could clear a deck in a moment.

Ninety seconds later she had the satisfaction of seeing the first pursuer pull sharply up, as explosions blossomed around it. The second was forced to divert course too, gaining the Free Henra vital time and distance. The enemy were keeping above her now, to keep their hulls between them and any mines.

“Ready lifters! Timers one ten to one fourty. Release!”

These mines all increased their altitude, staying high would not be enough.

“Nearly there Captain.” The first mate had been dead-reckoning their position, a nearly impossible task, but one he excelled in.

“Prepare to drop on my mark, Ben.” Emini watched as the first mate frowned between his pocket watch, air maps and instruments. He held up five fingers as explosions blossomed in the clouds above, and counted down.

“Gunners prepare to run out and support our ambush. Ben, I want us to gain distance and present the port broadside. Steady… Mark!”

The Free Henra lurched again, falling below the cloud cover now to meet three ships of her own navy. Except there were nine ships present. Three she recognised, scorched and damaged with colours struck, and six bearing enemy flags.

“Ben, up!” But one of their pursuers had stayed high, and now broke from the cloud cover above them. They were surrounded.

“Strike the colours. It seems they don’t need any lessons from us at all.”


 

Yowch. I was so confident I could keep writing through September. Instead the opposite happened… At least I did something before the end of February? So here is a story about overconfidence. Also dirigibles, sky navies and steampunk because I just read The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher and had a great time. It’s as though he looked at all the steampunk cliches and thought “How can I make all of these things make sense?” He did a good job.

543 words, mostly just to get the fingers moving.

Stupid Roboboxes

“It was everything we owned!” Sally was almost shouting in frustration.

“You didn’t buy insurance,” the man behind the desk shrugged. “Not my problem.”

“Are you mad? Our belongings didn’t just vanish into thin air. They were lost, by your packing boxes. You don’t get to just sit there and say,” she adopted a ridiculous voice, “Not my problem.”

“It isn’t though.”

Sally’s fists clenched tight and the tiny edge of a scream made it past her clenched jaw. She left the office of Robotics Removals Ltd before she did something that carried a prison sentence.

She was looking at reviews of lawyers on her phone when she noticed the boxes. A stream of sealed boxes, each carried by hundreds of tiny robotic legs, was leaving a building and marching down the street like centipedal army ants. On an impulse, she followed.

Catching up with the stragglers as they left town Sally noted that they were indeed Robotics Removals boxes, their side notices marked them as relocating Hermione’s Hair and Nails. She doubted that there were many hairdressers out in the hills.

The boxes continued marching, Sally became exhausted. Her quarry showed no sign of slowing, so she called a car to pick her up. Driverless cars didn’t have a “follow that box” setting, but she made do by having it drive to the end of the line, then wait while the boxes marched on. She was frustrated, bored, and sustained mostly by stubbornness.

As the Sun got low the boxes turned into the woods. Abandoning the car Sally followed, until she could hear the crashing of belongings. Revealed in the clearing was a massive pile of possessions. And poking out a paw…

“Oh Ted,” said Sally, stroking her childhood friend. “At least I found you.”

“I wish you hadn’t.”


 

So that’s the end of my little self-challenge. 20 days of 75 word stories then finishing the month with 300 word stories. I ‘m proud I made it, but honestly it wasn’t that hard. Like Sally I just had to be stubborn (for example it’s now 10.45 and I should be asleep).

So what next? I’d like to try some short stories – 1000 to 7500 range. Long enough to get some amount of character growth, I hope. I might try just writing some ideas and seeing what length they come out at. I definitely won’t be posting something every day in September though! 300 words was easy to write in one sitting. 500 is probably doable (and if I have trouble with 1000 words+ I may come back and work up to it) but I’m not sure what my limits are in terms of word count per day.

The risk of course is that without the self imposed deadlines I won’t write enough. But I can always come up with another semi-arbitrary challenge.

Procrastination, The Silent Killer.

I felt like an idiot. I’d been procrastinating all day, when my deadline was rushing towards me, all break lines cut.

The thing is, people ask “where do your ideas come from?” and other such inane questions. Any creative knows that ideas are just there for the taking. Similarly people expect inspiration, when what you need is a work ethic. I kept those truths close to my heart, which made my failure a little personal and painful.

My theory is we’re all afraid of failure. That’s why we allow ourselves to be distracted, it prevents us from making an attempt and failing. So when I spent a day immersed in computer games like I had concrete boots on it was just the scared part of my mind trying to keep me safe.

Luckily it didn’t take long. All I had to do was step away from the phone, away from the computer and open my mind to the kind of thinking that generates ideas. I looked around, breathed deeply and made sure to keep my focus general, nonspecific. Soon enough, I had it. Procrastination, that was what this one would be about. Perfect.

First I took the game I’d been playing and gifted it to Samuel Binford, the symmetry pleased me. He normally worked nights, from home, so he was asleep right now. A parked car, alarm blaring outside his window soon solved that. With a terrible sleep his executive function – the brain process that controls willpower – would be stuffed. Easy pickings when he discovered an anonymous game gift in his emails.

His gaming station was in a small, private room in his house. Usefully it had a small air vent to the outside. A cylinder of carbon monoxide through that and my deadline was met. Binford was no more.