Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nor Hope of Heaven Nor Fear of Hell

Long one today. I felt like there were too many ideas to fit this one into a hundred words, and it's one I really wanted to write. Hope y'all find it interesting.


It was a pitiable corner of Hell, a singular accomplishment in a landscape whose very existence was a lament and a curse. He tried not to feel too sorry for himself as he listened to his soul-flesh sizzle on the hot rocks of the cave; he'd certainly endured worse in his time here, and this, at least, was quiet.

After a time that might have been ten minutes or might have been a half-century, he became aware of a niggling sensation... of boredom. It grew from a momentary itch to an appalling fire in what seemed to be only moments, no matter how he distracted himself with new and interesting burn patterns on his singed buttocks. Perhaps that was the ultimate horror of this part of the Pit: to drive souls back into torment as into blessed release from the grip of ennui.

That was when he heard the sniveling.

Straining to see in the sulfurous fumes and amid spires of pitch-black rock, the soul saw a tiny blot of something still darker. A demon! Albeit one as sad and uninteresting as its tiny demesne. Perhaps a demon as puny as that would be able to inflict only similarly puny tortures; and that, he reflected, would be more interesting than crouching in a dark corner.

"Hallo!" he called, with cheeriness that surprised even himself. "It appears I've lost my way."

Red eyes flashed briefly, quickly covered once more with a scaly hand. "Go away."

"Hardly welcoming," said the soul. "It's not as though you've any other souls to flay."

The demon's voice was like rusty wire and sour milk. "Go away. I have neither pity nor anger to spare for you."

"Of course," said the soul. "Yearning for Heaven, whence you fell. Do you crave readmittance or simply destruction? I've met all sorts."


"Neither? You're happy here?"

"Of course not," the demon snapped. "This is Hell. But I prefer it here, where I know I am meant for suffering."

"And is Heaven not conversely meant for pleasure?"

The weary red eyes flickered into view again, momentarily. "Not for everyone."

Magic Lesson

"Restraint is important," said Pembrose. "You're smarter than to try something truly blatant, I know, but you're too clever by half. You'll think it can't hurt to try a little something, knowing everyone will assume it was prestidigitation. This you must not do. Always prepare a secret, a trick to explain it away."

"But why?" asked Cherie. "Why not actually use our power?"

Pembrose stroked his mustache. "Why can we do magic, apprentice?"

"We're wizards. Wise ones. We know the secrets."

"Wrong!" Pembrose snapped. "They believe even though they know it is not true. That is why the magic works."

CEO of Draco Industries

"Come in, Trenton. We're undergoing a little restructuring, and, well, I'm sure you're aware of your numbers this quarter." One diamond claw scratched at Skrizziktvek's chin. "I don't believe in drawing out the torment, so I'll be blunt. You're fired." He paused. "What are you doing?"

Trenton eased one eye open again. "You're not going to incinerate me?"

The room rattled with a dragon's laughter. "Is that old chestnut still going around? No, no, Trenton. I'm not going to set you on fire." He blinked, and looked down his long nose. "You are still fired, though. Clean out your desk."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


"How are you finding it?"

Malcolm leaned back, crinkling, letting his arm rest along the back of the couch, a studied half-inch away from Rhonda's shoulders. His breath fogged the inside of his wrapping as he considered the question.

"I'm not sure I can answer," he said. "It doesn't matter whether it's good or bad. It's really the only tolerable option. I was - we all are - falling to bits, constantly, endlessly. I couldn't stand it anymore. Now I'm safely sealed up. no more loss. No more worries."

"Plastics," said Rhonda faintly, not meeting any of their gazes, "are the future."

Sunday, September 26, 2010


They found him on the cave floor, his hands and feet melded into the living rock.

"Ah," he sneered. "The white blood cells arrive."

Rosalyn's face flickered between horror and admiration. "What have you done, Cyril?"

"An infection," he said, sinking further. "The planet can't last much longer without guidance, and since it won't take some goddamned responsibility..."

"You've failed." Grouter's voice was harsh and guttural. "We here. We can kill you."

"Yes, yes, you're the planet's immune system." Something - several somethings - hissed and clattered from the corners of the room. Shadows surrounded the invaders. "My immune system is stronger."

Plague Doctor

Colin heard the door open and the rustle of a long coat. Another doctor, he assumed. He didn't look up.

"How's the book?"

"It's really interesting!" Colin enthused. "The body is kind of like Starcraft. There's a build order and all different kinds of units, like B cells that spit out disabling shots and T cells that build killer T cells that track and destroy and phages that are almost like mercenaries..." He trailed off as he registered the black coat, the wide-brimmed hat, the bird mask.

The figure leaned forward. "Kekeke," it said, in a deep voice, "Zerg rush."

For reference.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Rhetorical Questions

"How do you make a man-eating plant?" The professor stalked away, turning his gaze on the panoramic view of the chasm.

"I don't-"

"Rhetorical question!" snapped the professor. "I could talk about hybridizing and nutrient mixes. But really, it's more about us than the plants. It's about poison in the water and the sky and the ground. It's about fires and bulldozers and resorts and manicured over-fertilized lawns."

Fleshy green tendrils climbed up from the pit beneath the balcony, wrapping around the captives' feet.

"How do you make a man-eating plant?" the professor asked again. "Simple: give it an opportunity."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sunfire Whiskers and a Tail Made of Stars

We were overrun before we knew it. Not an invasion, precisely. An infestation. Their ships stole when our backs were turned, nibbling away at our nascent web of interstellar travel. Rats. Space rats.

We sent cats to fight them. They hunted their prey with cunning and agility. The cats never shared a kill, but sometimes they'd leave a bit of wreckage in a docking bay.

When the last of the foes was gone, we waited for our heroes to return, but they didn't. We received one last communication from the Alpha Cat: "BRB. Chasing a comet."

They never came back.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Meaning of Fear

"Why have you come, foolish man-ape? Do you not know what I am? I thought your kind grown wiser; I have seen none for many years."

"O Dark One, I come willingly," I cried, feeling that delicious tingle of terror. "I know the power of Fear. Hail, Lord!"

"A... sacrifice? I am being... fed?" The presence withdrew. It said nothing further that night.

I returned the following evening, but the habitat was empty. They tried to claim it had finally died of deprivation, but the rumors had already begun.

I felt the tingle again. It was no longer so pleasant.


"Hey," said a piping voice.

I looked down. He was a perfect miniature of a middle-aged man, with a receding hairline, slacks, and a powder-blue shirt. He looked like an office manager, not a hiker.

"I'm Norm," he said.

"I'm lost," I told him. "I need to find the highway."

"No!" said Norm. "You should stay!"

"No, I-"

"Hey!" Three more copies of Norm appeared, varying in size. A full-size version loomed behind them.

"Don't fuss," said the big Norm. "We can tell you'll fit right in."

I looked down. My shirt was already fading to a light, soothing powder-blue...

Saturday, September 18, 2010


It will be tonight.

After work, his time is solely devoted to primping, dressing, dressing again, and a few careful dabs of cologne. It has to be perfect.

The light spills into the room as he opens the door. From outside, he can see only hints and edges, gleaming, polished, and sharp. She is a most elegant construction. He closes the door. It's better with some mystery to it.

He slides into the place meant for him. "I love you," he whispers to her.

As the blades slip into him, he knows, utterly and perfectly, that she loves him, too.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Clothes Make the Man

The guards spot me as I change. How do they always recognize me? But my shoes once belonged to an Olympic sprinter, and I outdistance them easily. The entrance is more difficult, but my cufflinks used to be a cat-burglar's and my necktie that of the engineer who designed these locks. I'm through in a moment.

There's another guard inside, but I have the headband of a sandan and a heavyweight boxer's undershirt. He falls quickly.

I wonder, sometimes, who I'd be if I were naked. But there's always another crisis to avert, and right now there is no time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Storing Up

He found the stall in the bazaar by accident. His head was still bleeding from the dish Kutyara had thrown at him. He wondered if it would ever stop.

"This one?"

Yellow teeth gleamed in the torchlight. "The simmering rage of an ox, whipped every day for twenty years."


"A boy watched his mother and father slain by the Prince's justice. His hatred drove him onto the guard's spears, but I was there to salvage it."

"I'll take them all."

"A large purchase, sir. Your foes will cower before your vengeance."

"No," he said thickly. "This is for me."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Than Anything

Rudy tugged at Bernice's sleeve, and they crept together along the low library shelves. Through a gap in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, they could see the greenish, vaguely humanoid creature perched on a child-sized chair by the Internet Cafe. Now that the initial fright was off, it was almost cute, like a Digimon. It clawed vaguely at the screen, its claws making tink-tink sounds against the glass.

Rudy stood boldly. "What do you want?" he called.

It turned mismatched eyes to him, then glanced back at the computer. "Home," it said, scrabbling at browser window on the screen. "Can't go home."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wood Chips and Gravel

Mindy didn't like this playground. Everything was white and slick. There was a boy underneath the boxy climbing fort; Mindy see his sneakers.

"How'd you get under there?" Mindy asked.

"Come and see." The boy's voice was deep, like Daddy's. "Come in here with me."

Thinking about Daddy reminded Mindy what was wrong. She couldn't see Mommy; she was lost.

"I gotta go," she said. She ran off into the trees. Several moments later she stopped, confused. She was back at the playground.

Under the fort, the sneakers moved. "I can wait," said the boy. "I'm getting good at it."

Pattern Recognition

Captain Trystero stared at the swirling mass on the screen, the bizarre anomaly the long-range sensors had picked up. "TS-197, what is that thing?"

The android whirred gently. "Unknown. Not in database."

"Sweet mercy! A wholly unknown astronomical event..."

"Don't jump to conclusions, captain," said Spekkio.

"What do you mean?"

Instead of answering, Spekkio rummaged in the console, coming up with a fork from the mess hall. "TS-197, identify?"

"A three-tined eating utensil."

Spekkio turned his back on the android and bent the fork into a circle. He spun back. "TS-197, identify?"

"Unknown. Not in database."

"See?" sighed Spekkio. "Robots."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

And a Jar Nearby, Its Lid Poked Full of Holes

Sizzle, sizzle, pop went the campfire.

"You're holding it too close." Molly reached out to push the stick up.

"Am not!" Rudy pulled away.

"You are! It's going to catch on fire."

"I know." Rudy scooted down the log and settled in, watching intently.

Madison picked her teeth and pulled out a translucent wing. There was a hiss and a brief scream as Rudy's burst into flame.

"I told you," said Molly.

"They're better this way."

"I don't know why you bother," said Madison. "When they get all crispy and black like that, you can hardly taste the pixie dust."

Talking to Himself

The ship hummed softly to itself, hundreds of sounds on dozens of frequencies, alone in the void. The console crackled, voices fading in and out amid the static. Lights flickered on the viewscreen. The others had all set out for the stars when they'd re-appeared, taking the lifeboats. He'd drawn the short straw. "We'll be back soon," Tria had told him. "With help."

He wondered what had happened to them when they hit the edge. Had they been crushed? Or would they, too, loop around, garbled and distorted, just like the lights of the ship and his own emergency beacons?

Thursday, September 9, 2010


"Just look," said Gean, slotting the plastic slide into the microscope.

Jake rolled his eyes and peered into the eyepiece. "Hey!" he said.

"Nothing there."

"What, you put distilled water on it?"

"No. Pondwater. There's just... nothing there. Here, look at this." Gean pushed another slide into place.

Jake squinted. The slide was solid crimson. "What is it?"

"Blood. My blood. No cells."

"...what's it mean?"

Gean shrugged. "No more micro. The smallest living things can now be seen with the naked eye."

"But what's it mean?"

Another shrug. "I'll be watching for the slipcover coming out of the sky..."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Overlooked Details

He nearly stepped on the dead wasp on the stoop. He glanced around; the bots were supposed to sweep up stuff like this anywhere on the synth.

There were two wasps the next day. He tried an experiment: he swatted a fly and dropped it to the ground. The bot bustled out of its charging nook and vacuumed up the offending corpse. But it left the wasps, swerving around the black, alien bodies.

The next day there were three. Then four.

On the thirteenth day, the twelve accumulated wasps disappeared overnight.

"Have to get that bot looked at," he muttered.

Monday, September 6, 2010


He regarded the last handfuls of clothing in the laundry basket with a jaundiced eye. Too much to shove into the washer, but too little to justify paying for a second load.


He glanced around the room. No movement.


He moved to the next washer and bent over, peering inside. An enormous frog – toad? – sat inside. It filled the whole of the interior. A blue ceramic bowl was wedged into the washer beside it. Perhaps five dollars in assorted change filled the bowl, along with three dead cockroaches and an unmoving fly.

"Ribbit?" The frog regarded him expectantly.


The syrup falls in viscous droplets to the floor below. Two chairs, one on either side, are overturned. Pills lie in an untidy heap, spilled from a small orange bottle. The smell of food is fading.

On the mantelpiece, pictures: graduations, a wedding, increasing numbers of children. The oldest photographs are monochrome.

The door will open again in a few hours. Perhaps it will be with smiles and nervous chatter. Perhaps it will be only one pale face and grim silence. The house pauses, between states. The latter scene is inevitable. Perhaps this will be the time.

But perhaps not.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Long one today. LadyM's prompt over at my Livejournal pseudo-mirror ended up making me think about sentience and the hilarious claim that gay marriage will lead to bestiality achieving acceptance and then about alternative lifestyles in general and then about what granting human intelligence to animals would really mean and then this came out. Apologies in advance if it squicks you; it's not supposed to be squicky.


Simone licked at her tailtip distractedly. "I've been thinking."

"What is it, honey?" Rob sipped at his coffee.

"You know I love you," Simone began.

Rob glanced up, raising his eyebrows.

"And I'd never regret our partnerhood," Simone went on, "regardless of... physical issues. It was the happiest day of my life. You must know that."

Rob didn't say anything.

"But I've been thinking about... kittens."

"Enhanced?" Rob kept his face carefully neutral.

"Otherwise they'd be no more than pets." Simone bit at an imaginary burr on her flank. "I know it's asking a lot. My kind would never raise another's children. Toms don't tend to stick around for fatherhood anyway."

Rob stood, towering over her. He bent down and kissed the top of her head. "Any children of yours will be beautiful," he said, and then thoughtfully left the room before Simone could embarrass herself with un-feline emotional displays.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Practical Demonstration

Jack walked to the center of the stage. The lights went low, focused on him. The audience quieted as much as the audience at an elementary school talent show ever truly became quiet.

"My talent... um..." Jack began. He hesitated. "I kill monsters."

There was a pause. A baby wailed in the silence; true silence, now.

"With this." Jack brought his hand out from behind his back, revealing a dented and notched baseball bat.

The first nervous titters went up from the audience. They kept laughing right up until the first thunderous footstep rattled the fluorescent lights in their sockets.

First of Many

The Wisest Stone is still suffering from amnesia. I think I'll wrap up this pseudo-continuity next month. Taku is starting to show the strain of having to be the master for so many stories in a row. In the meantime, happy sort-of-beginning of the month! Only two more shopping months until Mirrorshards' second anniversary. What are you getting for YOUR friends and family to celebrate?

"Why is the Weed King so intent on capturing us?" asked the Wisest Stone.

Taku grimaced, sweat rolling down his face. "You called him a wastrel and a mendicant, and demanded restitution for all of the stone and mountains his roots have destroyed."

"Ah," said the Wisest Stone. "And was I correct?"

"Technically," Taku admitted. "But also unkind."

"Hardly relevant."

"One can be truthful without being cruel. Do you not see this?"

The Wisest Stone considered. "If we are honest, we cannot help but be cruel. Life is harsh."

"That is why the first lie we tell is to ourselves."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Que Sera Sera

The wheel spins... slows... stops.

"Fire," the priest announces.

"Thank you, Lord!" the parishioner says. He stands, smiles wide and unfeigned. "Thank you!"

The next steps forward. The wheel spins.

"The spikes."

"Blessings upon me," says the parishioner.

Outside, the chanter leads those still waiting for justice in the noon prayer: "We live in the best of all possible worlds, for how can it be otherwise? The dice fall where they must, and we rejoice, for in their faces we glimpse the Divine. Blessed is the Judge. Blessed is the verdict."

Inside, the priest closes his eyes. The wheel spins.

Tracks in the Sand

When he woke in the morning, the tattoos were gone. He couldn't say he was surprised. Even through the hours spent with gritted teeth, cringing from the needle in the overheated back room, he'd suspected what would happen.

He munched a piece of toast and idly doodled on his hand with a permanent marker. He wrote his name, and watched as that, too, faded into his skin

The steak knife, dirty by the sink, caught his attention.

No. He'd find a way to leave a mark. He glanced at the knife once more on his way out.

Not yet, anyway.