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.

Where is Neil?

Where is Neil?

She was a computer geek, a technophile and proud of it, and a proud young mother too. She had hundreds of hours of digital footage on phones and backup drives. Every major life event from his short life, first words, first steps, birthdays. A massive selection of minor ones too, favourite toys, foods, books, television show.

There was more. She knew details only a parent could. His fears, dreams, the tiny nubs of what would one day crystalise into his ambitions. She fed them all in.

Where is Neil?

Even more data was harvested or extrapolated. His gait and how it would change as he grew. His face at ages 4, 10, 16, and beyond. His likely height when full grown (181 cm) and shoe size (10). The books she would have read him, the professions of his four grandparents, where his father holidayed as a child. Everything they could think of, and then everything the system asked for.

Where i s Neil?

Neil’s mother had been working on the first quantum computer. A device that could calculate beyond the limits of simple silicon. Neil’s life was loaded into it with a dedicated neural simulator. An infinite variety of simulations ran, tested against his life then spiralled out into possibility. Waveforms propagated and collapsed.

Where i a m Neil?

The infinite array of Neils could be tracked, security camera footage compared. Across the country police checked a particular door, and found him. His family dropped everything. The press was amazed at the mother who had found her child when the police had failed.

I am Neil. Where am I? Where’s my mummy?

The research time she had booked – had misused to run her program – expired. The next researcher wiped the drives and started again.

An Erlking’s Daughter

Ernie hates storms. I thought it was the wind and rain, that Ernie wasn’t so bright, but now I know better.

The night I learned better was a big winter storm. I loved the sound of heavy rain hitting the roof, but that was Ernie’s trigger to start barking and pacing. I sent him to his bed. The whining was quieter at least, and I heard the shed door as wind ripped it open. I swore. I’d forgotten to close it and rain would rust all the machinery.

I threw on my jacket, thrust feet into boots and headed out. The wind hit me like a wave. There was an odd noise, but it was probably creaking trees so I pushed on to close the shed. When I’d latched and locked the door I heard the noise again. It was singing. Who’d be out singing in a night like this?

It was a woman. Hair loose and flying, dress soaked through from the rain, she stood on the edge of the light from my windows. Her song was adventure, power, lust, everything my farm wasn’t and I stepped forward. But then I heard frenzied barking from inside. Ernie was pressed against the window, teeth bared. I looked back to the woman and saw a thing instead – all wood and willow hair, with thick root feet and bramble claws.

I ran, but it was faster. Briars grabbed me and I fell, but Ernie was there, grabbing my shirt and hauling me in. The lucky horseshoe over the door fell, and sheared the bramble branches like an axe. There was an awful screech outside. I slammed the door.

The next day I burned the remaining twigs, though they scratched and clung to me. Ernie got steak, and can bark all he likes.


 

I saw the amazing Robert Hofmann singing The Erlking this weekend (backed by some wonderful musicians). It seems to have stuck. This was a tough one to get out on the page though.

Buried myths and legends

“I heard there are dead bodies under there,” said a kid.

“I heard it was toxic waste,” his friend replied. They both watched the diggers avidly. I felt sick. I sent a text – “They found it.”

The council had finally decided to investigate. The grass had grown oddly there for years now. They’d tried replacing the topsoil, adding fertiliser, all sorts of fixes, but the problem lay deeper. Six feet deeper.

I’d been a teenager, practically a child, only starting to experiment with cynicism. I’d still believed in magic. So had Emma. So when we found him in the wood, when he found us, we’d trusted implicitly when we should have been cautious.

This was a creature of legend. But the old legends had darker sides, kelpies and brook horses to drown you, fairies to dance you to death. I knew all of those now, too late.

The diggers hit something and called to each other. It was bone, but not the skull. Nothing distinguishing.

He’d come and put his head in her lap. Emma, knowing a little folklore but not enough, had taken her necklace and put it around his neck. She hooked a link around a twig and he woke, but stood statue still. He hadn’t moved a muscle until we returned with her brother Carl. The terrible horn exploded into motion.

Emma’s parents had thought it was a sick joke, but her dad brought a long handled axe from his garden shed. I wished he had a gun. The legend was there, standing over Carl’s body, held by a tiny golden chain.

“It’s a horse,” the diggers called up. “It’s been shot in the head!”

That wasn’t why there was a hole in its skull. I reached under my coat and touched the horn, for reassurance.

Garden Karma

Cynthia adored her garden. It was a slice of Eden, tamed and kept. Everything in it was edible, gorgeous, or both. Her favourite were the artistically planted, soft-leaved lettuces.

She hunted down all pests, squashing aphids between her fingers, chopping slugs in half with the trowel. One day she found five snails and crunched them beneath her slipper, then scraped the remains onto a bird feeder.

She didn’t remember her dreams that night, but woke unrefreshed and irritable.

In the garden were more snails. She disposed of them, but found another on the bird feeder, cannibalising its departed comrades. Cynthia hurled the snail into Brian Finton’s garden, hoping it would warn other snails to keep out, or get eaten by that yappy dog.

That night she dreamed of unseen pursuit.

The next morning she found twenty snails, munching on decimated marigolds. In a fury she went between them, wielding her trowel like a gladius until every trespasser lay dead.

In her dream she fell into a deep, soggy hole. She saw the first snails glide over the pit edge. A few at first, then a wave, a thousand soft bodies and crisp shells descending. Some dropped and she stomped them into the mud, but thousands more…

She woke with a gasp.

Outside her garden was overrun by snails, thousands of them. Her lettuces were sad, green stumps, encased in shells. Brian next door was woken by the screaming. He went to complain, but was hit by an airborne snail. He left her alone.

Cynthia eventually fell asleep in her ruined garden, surrounded by crushed and bisected snails. She opened her eyes in the hole, her body already covered as more crawled towards her. Tiny tongues rasped like a cat lick, rough, but painless at first. They didn’t stop.

snails-3383863_960_720


 

I really enjoyed writing this one. Just look at those scheming little slimeballs in the picture. I’d watch out if I were you.

Not really sure what genre this fits best, if any.