A Baby Bird

It’s hot in L.A. I’m walking down the sidewalk with the sun tingling my scalp through my hat, and the sweat tickles the center of my back with every other step. The wind picks up, the palm trees sway, and in the distance the city buzzes.

There wasn’t a shine, a movement, or anything in particular that drew my eye, but I happened to see a baby bird. It was there, on the sidewalk, under a tree. It was so small, so fragile, and its chest rose and fell so quickly with its tiny breaths. Its feathers were small and sparse, and there were small red lines on its body that were probably cuts or scratches. I look up at the tree, and I have to squint my eyes, but I think I see the nest. A timeline of events begins to puzzle its way together into one of two possibilities.

The first, is that a hot, summer wind came along and swept this bird out of the comfort of its nest before its time.

The second, is that it was old enough – it looks big enough to be that old, maybe; but what do I know? – that it was time to learn to fly. And when its mother made this young chick fly, it wasn’t ready.

Either way, it wasn’t ready.

I look back down to the baby bird on the sidewalk. I don’t know what to do. I hope it isn’t in pain, though it probably is. I hope its mother will come for it, though she probably won’t. I hope for some reason to think it might heal, though I’m not sure there is one.

Briefly, I look around for something to end its life with, but quickly realize I don’t have the heart to mercy-kill it, even if it would be a kindness. There are no rocks, no bricks, only my shoe and I can’t bring myself to do that.

So I do the only thing there’s left to do.

I take the scrap of a paper cup lying nearby in the shade of a parked car, and scoop its limp, pulsing form off of the hot sidewalk. I place it a few inches to the side, out of the sun, in the shade of the tree. I take a moment to wish it well – the lone favor of a passing giant – and keep walking, praying it knows comfort in its last hours.

Later on up the sidewalk, I stop again and think about that baby bird. I look up, and a few moments later see no fewer than half a dozen black birds flying overhead from an unknowable origin to an unknowable destination. I small chuckle tells the lesson: We symbolize birds for their freedom, their gift of flight, and it’s usually with jealousy. But rarely, I think, do we consider the cost, the gamble they make when they’re young, and what should happen if the gamble goes poorly. I realized then and there how common a story it must be, to be a bird that never gets to taste flight. Somewhere in that feeling was a mix of respect and admiration for both: for birds whose wings we hail, and those whose wings never spread more than once.

Later, while we’re leaving the city, stuck in the usual, infamous sea of red brake lights, I see the Hollywood sign in distance.

And I chuckle again.

FIN

Roadside

There was a body on the roadside.

Kyle stared at it while the flashing of her hazard lights illuminated it like the strobe of lightning during a storm.

“Get your headlights fixed,” is what had been so easy for everyone to say. Easy advice to offer. But a busy work week and a mechanic’s shop that was across town makes that “easy” advice harder to follow. She hadn’t known she was going to be out that late, how could she have? The canyon was a back road, and there wasn’t supposed to be anyone out there but her.

And now there was a body on the roadside.

Two sounds, each like a shock from her stomach to the tingling edges of her scalp, one right after the other. The first was a groan from the supposed corpse, and the second was the sound of tires coming around the bend.

The clack of a gavel, the slamming of bars, and Samantha crying where all that filled her ears after that.

Then, lights came around the bend. Lights that approached fast, then slowed. Lights that turned off to the roadside behind her.

“Everything alright?” said the Good Samaritan.

“Yeah,” Kyle said back with a wave. “Headlights gave out on me all of a sudden. Can’t see an inch ahead of the grill.” She motioned to the clear space of gravel on the roadside.

“Oh,” said the voice. “Good thing you found the turnout. How ’bout you follow my taillights back to the main road. Dark out here.”

“You. Are. Awesome. Thank you!”

She stayed focused on the two red eyes that guided her out of the dark, not giving a moment’s concentration to the steep hills beyond the roadside.

FIN

A Hootenanny with a Hoedown, to Boot!

Happy Tuesday, y’all – how ya doin’?

Continuing on from Thursday’s stories, we’re gonna dive on into the rest of the chronicle. Bonus points if you can spot the work that inspired how they get out.

Crevarius & Bindalar Gearforge

Narrator: (The stockades and dungeons of High Bluff, particularly the Crag Cells, were held in infamy for their creative design, the torment the echoing stone was said to have play on the mind, and, moreover, their record for being inescapable. Normally reserved for fugitives and miscreants of great trespass, two unlucky individuals had found themselves on both the wrong side of the law as well as the sore temper of Keeper Falion, leaving them to commiserate in the dark, damp cave-cells of High Bluff’s harshest prison.)

(One, a man, lithe of form and bearing a curled, blonde goatee sat with his elbows upon his knees and his back against the cave wall. He was dressed in a green jerkin, trousers of blackened leather, and high soft boots of the same. Currently, he worked away, whittling a piece of stone with a tiny iron blade.)

(The second, a gnome, short but not stout, with sharp facial features and an almost perpetual smirk adorning his cheeks. Clothed in dark leathers riddled with pockets which confiscation had emptied, only his blonde hair was apparent against the black of the cave wall. He sat cross-legged sorting a small mound of various bread scraps, fatty meat pieces, and stale nuts.)

(Each young man shared his cell with a cellmate who each young man considered very boring company.)

Crevarius: “I’m so hungry.” (He groans.)

Bindalar: “Yeah? Well that’s your own fuckin’ fault, innit? Raisin’ a cat n’ all.”

Crevarius: “Do you really think it the time to-”

Bindalar: “Oooh, mate, all’s we got is fuckin’ time. Your ass ain’t goin’ nowhere! And thanks fuckin’ to it, neither is mine! Ah, good boy.”

(A small, white rat scurries up to the gnome and delivers a bread scrap.)

Crevarius: “Me? YOU are the career street thief. I’d counted on a bit more professional expertise from your end.”

Bindalar: “Ah, yeah, and who’s the bloody fuckin’ fancy archer who missed his fuckin’ shot and left me on the fuckin’ roof without a fuckin’ rope!?”

Crevarius: “I told you to just toss down the bag first! How hard was that?”

Bindalar: “I don’t trust fuckin’ cheats.”

(Crevarius prepares a retort, but jostles his eyebrows in recognition of points made.)

Crevarius: “Can you spare some food?” (He says finally.)

Bindalar: “Wait, what’s that you’ve got there?”

Crevarius: “What? This?”

Bindalar: “Yes fuckin’ that. That what’s in your hand! Is that a knife?”

Crevarius: “Yes.”

Bindalar: (In a harsh whisper) “You’ve got a fuckin’ knife and you didn’t fuckin’ say anything?”

(Pause)

Crevarius: “I didn’t think it important to mention.”

(The gnome stares dumbfounded from under the brim of his hat.)

Bindalar: “Give it here.”

Crevarius: “What? No.”

Bindalar: “Give it fuckin’ here, ya cock-sneezin’ shit bag.”

Crevarius: “Give me the bread and nuts.”

Bindalar: “For fuck’s sake!”

(The gnome shovels all the scraps in front of him through the bars at the archer.)

Crevarius: “Now, what’re you going to do with that?”

Bindalar: “You have no idea how people come and go from this fuckin’ place, do ya?”

Crevarius: “I…uh…”

Bindalar: “Suck a donkey’s tit and call it maple.” (sighs) “Just follow my lead. Oi! (calling through the bars to the distantly attending guard) we got a stiff over here! (whispers) Sorry, bruv.”

Crevarius: “You’re pretty despicable.”

Bindalar: “Ah, sad fuck was hangin’ by a thread anyway. You’s best do the same. We’ve about five minutes ‘fore they come back with sacks for the bodies. Hope your ass knows how to swim!”

Narrator: (After what may only be described as the completion of selfish, depraved, perhaps villainous, but admittedly clever and survivalist actions, two body bags are sung their last rights and cast from the cliffs of High Bluff into the ocean. The first is deftly cut open shortly after sinking below the water’s surface to reveal a very much alive and swimming adept gnome, holding a soggy white rat. The second, upon hitting the salty water swells to a plump, buoyant state and coasts calmly to the shore with the kicking gnome following hotly in pursuit.)

Crevarius: “I have to hand it to you,” (stepping out of his deflating body bag, dressed in the clothes of his former cellmate, and holding a fluffy gray cat) “that WAS a pretty great idea.”

Bindalar: (sloshing his way up the beach) “What the fuckin’ hell was that? And where the fuck did you get a cat?”

Crevarius: “Tala here? She was the brooch on my cloak. Couldn’t have a cat walking around in a prison like that. A rat, sure, but an unfamiliar tabby? Nonsense.”

(Bindalar and his rat stare at him hard for a long moment.)

Bindalar: “Well, that’s fuckin’ brilliant.”

(Together, the two set out into the evening dusk-mellowed streets to resupply themselves the best ways they knew how. Reconvening at the caravan park leading north out of town, they heard the bells of alarm ringing at the end of the peninsula and thought it best to make camp outside the city bounds that night. Regardless, the daring duo was arrested a short week later, hunted by a contracted Justicar of the Taldastius Order and her ward, a prodigal young witch.)

(To this day, no one knows what was said between the opposing camps that fateful night, but the separate two’s became four. Their forces joined, they set off to investigate the call of a priest of The Returned in Hallendren, the Jewel of the East.)

END

The Take: This was fun. I loved having the guys read this at the table, got a fair bout of laughs, and set the mood pretty well. And reading it back now, it still hits me with some chuckles. However you read Bindalar’s voice, I guarantee you got it exactly right.

And last but not least, introducing…

Nisha

Nisha had spent the majority of her life watching the sands. In them, she could read the songs of the wind and in them she could read the news of the world. Raised in the Channelers’ Fold as she had been, that life offered no freedom to explore beyond the walls of Meir and its towering spires could only extend her vision so far. Her early hopes were to distinguish herself with her talents, boast through display the connection with her chosen djinn, and bullishly earn place to be groomed for the Inquisition. But life rarely bears fruit as sweet as the yearnings of our youth would dream it to be. Nisha’s life as an Acolyte of the Inquisition was more difficult than she would ever have thought it could be. The schooling was as demanding as it was constant; the consequences for dissatisfying expectations were severe; and the closer she grew to her djinn, the more deeply she regretted her bond. Try as she might to conceal these thoughts from it, the more it pried into her mind, tormenting her with commands it hadn’t the authority to give and with violent thoughts not her own. The young, olive-skinned, golden-eyed girl would deny the shade its triumph by robbing herself of that for which it doggedly assailed her mind.

On the eve of her Conjoining, the final marriage with her chosen spirit, Nisha stood in the window sill of her spire-top room. She looked over her shoulder for a final sight at the cage that had housed her for so long and cast herself from it. She fell, feeling the wind tear past her on her descent, fill her ears, and lurch her stomach into her throat. With a slow tranquility, the girl closed her eyes and awaited that final silence, a wry smile curling her lips.

*

For years later, Nisha would ponder why it was her silence never came. When she would search the shattered memories of her fraying mind, she only knew that next she woke on a road stretching through unfamiliar sands, far away from the towering walls of Meir. Panic had hit her first, spinning this way and that but seeing nothing more than rolling dunes across an encompassing horizon. When her breath returned to her, she took to her training and with an eventual calm resolve, set herself to reading the sands. The wind carried news of ports, strange dressings, and dye fields on rainbow’d hills. Nisha knew now, she was north of Albe’lar an Tsecht, the Duskset Jewel of the Returned.

She removed herself from the wind’s song and wiped the dust from her face to see an odd group approaching, but took less notice of them than her own hands. With an eerie calm, she observed the wrinkles in the skin of her hands and with them felt the deep grooves of her withered face. Nisha reacted with muted shock as the woman in armor of lacquered silver stepped from the group and approached her (hushing the gnome making a comment about Nisha resembling a robed raisin). The woman spoke but Nisha heard not a word as she came under a much deeper revelation. The woman’s countenance turned worried as she asked with concern, “Old woman, are you alright?”

Nisha looked up to her with tears running down her cheeks and a deep smile on her lips as she replied: “I’m alone.”

The Take: Nisha’s my favorite. Of the five characters presented here, Nisha’s my favorite for sure. Not necessarily for her personality or abilities she went on abuse use to great effect, but just her intro. When asked to do up a backstory, Amanda, the player in question said something along the lines of: “I dunno, something cool. I wanna be a crazy lady.” Well dammit, a crazy lady you now have.
In case I lost you somewhere in there, the short version is this: Nisha is being reared into the Channeler’s Fold (mentioned back in Stella’s portion), a sect/temple/whatever of mages that play host to djinn for power. She was being prepared for her permanent bonding with her chosen djinn, but couldn’t take it, and tried to commit suicide by leaping out of a tall spire’s window. When she woke up, she found she’d somehow not died and was now instead an old wrinkly woman, but the djinn who’d resided in her mind was (equally mysteriously) gone.
Mark my words, here, today, the 24th of September of the year two-thousand nineteen, Nisha will feature prominently in a future novel of mine.

Anyway, Abidee-Abidee- that’s all for now folks (Porky Pig voice definitely intended).

Ciao.

Fantasy Dim Sum: Ainsley and Stella

What’s up, everybody. Happy Thursday!

Today we’re at it again: serving up a couple short scenes that wind up tying together in the end. Rather than overdoing the intro, I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

Without further adieu…

Part 1: ‘Ainsley, Justicar of Taldastius

Ainsley stood still at the edge of the forest glade, loosing the deep breath with the slow, practiced control her work demanded. Her eyes took in the scene with that same calm measure as her plated boots clinked their tread through the soft grass. A gentle wind danced through the muted green, brushed her cheeks, tossed her hair, and carried the scent of blood – the scent of a haunting life she’d left behind.

While her task required attention, Ainsley’s focused mind would not carry the nightmares of that life. For a time, she would not be molested by thoughts of the clans her brother-and-sisters-in-arms had scattered; she would not burden herself with the memories of their screams; she would not shudder at the knowledge she held of that which corroded the earth, shattered rock, and sundered the skies. A “dishonorable discharge” it had been called, but a system of mock honor that burns and destroys the undeserving to protect its own interests held no place to judge her. No longer holding station among the zealous Elves of the Iron Fang, she had found the freedom to wander. Unwelcome by many, hated by some, Ainsley turned Nameless – finding work and a place in the darkest recesses of Mundas, thanklessly facing the nightmares that plagued its people.

And this way she lived for many years until came such a time as any for those that live the Nameless way, and she found herself ready to die as such. She had stood in a moonlit glade then as well, slowly kneeling ready to dash the lunar-gray grasses with the crimson of her life’s blood. As she had held the blade high and saw in its reflection the pale of the moon, the sight of it filled her mind and heart with a vision:

We that follow are the light that stands amid the dark and guides the helpless through its shroud.”

The Oath and its Moon Strictures now decorating the flesh of her back, her life as a Justicar of Taldastius had begun only weeks later; her stride now set with a righteous purpose beyond murky survival.

As her footfalls strode quietly through the glade, shield at her side and sword gleaming brightly in the moonlight, Ainsley heard the choking, strained gasps more clearly the nearer she drew. The girl was young, no more than twenty winters behind her, with raven black hair and eyes with blue that pierced the pallid night. The acrid smell in the air, the jagged, raking marks down the girl’s arms, and the thick, speckled quills that perforated her petite form told Ainsley more than enough: Howlers.

Normally cowardly, netherplane-dwelling beasts, something had brought them here. The girl looked up at Ainsley, lips quivering, dark trails streaking from the corners of her mouth, and unable to speak. The Justicar held the young girls gaze for a time before turning her own to a rustling in the encompassing treeline.

They were coming.

END

The Take: So, there are a couple of lore points from the larger world at work here to address that might help, might not.
Ainsley is a Justicar (or paladin-variant, basically) of Taldastius, Steward of the Moon, Keeper of the Scales, Lord of Justice, n’ all else. The Moon is the Order’s totem and it represents them in the way Ainsley’s vision outlines: they fight against the dark by living in it, but without becoming it (if that makes sense). I could go on for pages, but that’s the gist and we have more to get to (this is supposed to be bite-sized, after all).
The Iron Fang are essentially a state-funded volunteer corps of defense against the dragon nests north of the Continent. They’re comprised of zealots, desperate sods, religious nutters, social outcasts – anyone and everyone. It’s members are highly revered, though, normally only after they’ve died – being criticized and berated in life by society at large. They’re organized strictly, and when one falls out of their ranks (is insubordinate, flees, or otherwise shows cowardice), they become “Nameless,” the world’s equivalent to Witchers, basically; only finding work as mercenaries and monster-hunters.

On to the next!

Part 2: Stella Fairbay, Heiress of Shale

Stella watched the diminutive ceramic dancer slowly twirl in its place within the open music box. A slight smile spread across her narrow lips as she listened to the soft chiming sung by the inner springs and coils. She watched the last of the day’s warm sunlight glimmer and reflect off its polished curves, and these feelings left her mind awash in memories – though they now seemed so distant.

The years of her youth were of gilded halls and ballrooms, long hours in formal court, and a deep-rooted yearning to part with it all, though never once betraying her family’s storied lineage. As with many of the women in her ancestry, Stella held a particularly strong sway over the magical forces of Mundas, and nothing interfered with that secret more greatly than the life of royalty. Her potential was held captive by the very privilege which provided for her, so she stole away one night to walk the wanderer’s path and develop her talents. Her only farewell: a letter addressed to her grandmother, the ruling Duchess of Shale, mentor to Stella in her youngest years, and, moreover, only living family-by-blood left in the Duchy.

Stella fluttered her eyelids to blink the memories away and she found her vision focusing beyond the now silent toy dancer to the reflection of her own eyes in the mirror of the box’s lid. She held the sight for a breath then looked up to behold the moon, feeling now that it was almost time. It had taken many months to find this place and Stella would be damned if she’d spent that time tracking down the proper charts, conferring with members of the Channelers’ Fold, and preparing the necessary charms only to miss her window distracted by nostalgia.

The young witch carefully closed the music box and stowed it within her black, silver-laced robes. She stood sharply and grasped the spear-staff at her side, an heirloom from her late grandfather. Stella marched with conviction to the edge of a summoner’s circle she’d constructed when the sun had been high, looked up to see the moon nearing its zenith, and an eager laugh escape her lips as she began her incantation, ready to open the way. Her eyes whited over with a milky paleness to mimic the moon and the ground beneath her feet felt as if to hum in harmony with her low tone.

Slowly, like fireflies drifting in the veil of night, glowing sigils began to form out of the cold air and weave together in the bounds of her circle. A complete silence took the glade before a loud snap broke the air and a bright font of light burst forth from the ground. In a matter of moments, Stella knew, if she had done her work correctly, she would be face-to-face with an angelic archon.

As the last of the arcane light faded from the circle, an unexpected darkness shrouded the glade. Stella rubbed her eyes so they might adjust and whispered a word to her staff for light. As she did so, a horrible sense of dread fell upon her like a cloak and she heard a clicking, guttural snarl. The moments of Stella’s life to follow would be remembered only as a panicked blur.

A haunting, shrieking howl pierced the still quiet.

Her chest and arms pained by slashes of unseen claws.

She was knocked breathless against the cool, damp grass.

Stella awaited the death knell from whatever infernal creatures her tragic mistake had summoned, though it never came. She could hear them, feel them encircling her, as her vision slowly darkened until a vibrant silver light beamed from the edge of the glade and the creatures retreated from it. A woman in silver and blue plate armor stood over her, beautiful and scarred, she peered down at Stella with a look of sympathy. A noise from the glade’s edge stole the woman’s attention for a moment, and when her gaze returned to the young witch her eyes burned a brilliant silver that shone against the dark backdrop of the stars.

The woman whispered a soft, chiming tone and Stella coughed. While still in great pain, she could feel a relieving warmth spread across her body where there had been agony moments before. Seeing the young woman stable, the paladin dashed across the muted gray forest floor, her blade shining white with fire. Stella craned her neck to watch as her savior cleaved down the first two beasts in a matter of moments and briefly wrestled with a third, a terrible fray of shouts and visceral crunches, while the remaining pack closed in around. With a desperate, heaving breath, Stella sat up and looked on as long, sharp quills like those that had pierced her struck the paladin between areas of her plate. Focusing through the tormenting pain and hurried anxiety of her circumstance, Stella forced herself into trance.

The paladin fought from her back, swinging this way and that to ward away the encroaching pack, when she felt the ground beneath her shake. The howlers seized the moment of her hesitation and moved to leap upon their meal, but could not feel the ground beneath their gnarled paws. She watched as the remaining pack was lifted above the grass and pulled, flailing viciously, over to the girl in black robes, now standing with spear in one hand and the other extended towards the creatures. Quills were shaken and shot forth in Stella’s direction, though they splintered to harmless flakes in the air around her. The howlers were forced to the grass, dragged by an invisible hand to the circle from which they’d emerged and, like water through cloth, disappeared beneath the ground.

From across the moonlit glade, the two women locked eyes for the second time and together shared a well-earned sigh of relief.

END

The Take: There you have it, a bad-ass, scarred up warrior lady and a reckless, mystical witch woman ruining a gaggle of otherworldly beasties. Always fun. I always liked Stella’s half for tying in and really showing off Ainsley’s badassery, plus alluding to some other world-bits we’ll explore a bit more deeply later.

Probably put up the others of this little “mini-series” tomorrow rather than waiting until Tuesday. Til then, you take it easy and stay beautiful, you.

Ciao.

In Case You Missed It: “Lessons from the Deep”

(Quick re-post, cause this got put up a little later yesterday. Enjoy, y’all!)

Whaaaaat’s up everybody? Happy-

…Tuesday! (Sorry, I actually had to scratch my chin to remember what day it was and wanted to reflect that here.)

Wanted to get this out earlier today, but the hectic nature of trying to sell the house now that it’s good and flipped, well, you get it. Now that we’re here, so cues the part where I tell you the passing thought that just cartwheeled around the yard, wispily threaded its way through the window, and slipped through my ear to the top of my head:

If you’ve never been to a speak-easy, like, a “real” one that adheres to its theme, you owe it to yourself. On a recent trip to L.A. for my friends’ wedding, my girlfriend Amanda and I found (okay, really, she found it and I just went) a Speak-Easy the night before the wedding, and y’all, it was AWESOME. I’m talking had to spot the bouncer out front looking inconspicuous out front of the inconspicuous building, get the night’s password out of him, go down a back alley (where Mandy swung my hand all giddy-like while I thought we were gonna get dirked), make a turn where we found a red light, knock on the door where a man on the other side pulled a curtain and asked for the password – the Whole Nine. If you find yourself in Pasadena and in the very specific, nameless speak-easy I’m talking about, get the Mama’s Poison – it’s tops, daddio.

Anyway, in the name of flipping (two paragraphs ago – poor segue), we’re going to go through our little flip book again (like we did last week).

Here’s how it’s gonna go: I’m gonna stop typing to briefly flip through randomly for a prompt, probably sit with my mouth agape for a moment or two while observing what it comes up with, then decide whether or not to tell you before or after to tell y’all what the parameters were.

Ready?

Cool.

-flippy flips-

Heh heh heh, I love this thing.

Alright, so this time, we got the following:

  • Following a disastrous job interview,
  • a big-time weather reporter
  • wakes up in a strange house

Same as last time, we’re taking this nice and gently, not rushing and stressing the shit out of it like on previous fan/friend submitted prompts – even though those turn out awesome and we’ll get back to them soon.

Without further adieu…

The Dark Below Pepperdine Circle

The man in the suit clapped his hand on the desk as he laughed. He had thick fingers and a heavy ring that knocked against the wood. It was here Greg also noticed the two metal teeth on the man’s bottom row, as well as the thickness of his sideburns. He would’ve said something, but he hadn’t exactly had the power in the conversation thus far as it was.

“I love it!” the man boomed. “Oh, I love it, I tell ya! You go ahead and keep that, and you’ll hear from us within the week!” Greg took the item in question from the man in the suit as he resumed laughing. He laughed unceasingly while he held the door open for Greg, during the entire escort to the parking lot, and laughed still as the front door of the office building closed to officiate their parting. Greg walked out to his car, threw his briefcase in the back, and drove around to the other side of the lot, where he parked again, and let his head fall onto the horn for a good long while.

This was the seventh interview that had pushed daisies in the last four days. He looked to the bobble-head James had given him. It was a small figure of Greg, with the usual over-sized head, but an expression of bewildered discomfort and a cartoon-like, green gas cloud erupting from his bottom. “Come on,” his wife had said. “John and Stacey have been inviting us over for weeks. They want to do fish tacos and play some games. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Karen,” Future Greg would say. “Maybe John and Stacey don’t know a spatula from an flattened duck foot. Maybe that rank-ass fish ruins my gut live on air and gets me fired. Maybe I come home that day to bitch about it, and find John bending you over my billiard table. Maybe I move out and live on Curtis’s couch for three months. Maybe, when I’m finally ready to start job hunting again, I find out I’m a new goddamn meme format. So, no, Karen. Fuck their tacos.”

He took his head off the horn and got out of his car, whereupon he hurled the bobble-head over the curve of the nearest building’s wall and started kicking the hell out of his tires. When his tirade finally calmed, he looked up to see an older man staring at him from the sidewalk. He wore a beanie, weathered jacket, finger-less gloves, and sat in a wheelchair. “What the fuck do you want?” Greg screamed, red in the face.

His flat expression unchanged, the homeless man held out a hand with a tab of acid suspended between two fingers. Greg’s heavy breathing slowly returned to normal under the weight of his confusion at first, but then began instead weighing the consequences.

Thus began a series of poor choices.

*

Greg woke up to a splash of water going up his nose. His burning sinuses and coughing fit immediately roused him to consciousness, but he found he was in utter darkness. His eyes opened wide in the black, that they might drink in any wayward light, but to no avail. He could tell he was lying on his stomach in water that was maybe two inches deep, and his fingers were against something soft, like wet fur under the water. He scrambled away at first, imagining he was on the back of a sleeping aquatic bear or wildebeest. When he didn’t hear a roar or the crunching of his own bones, he sopped his way to his knees and listened. Beyond his own heavy breathing, he heard the very soft lapping of water somewhere, distant in the void. And something like…the crunching of gift wrap?

He fumbled about in his pocket for his phone and its flashlight, but when he tried to touch the screen, nothing. Damn, he thought. Soaked.

He began feeling his way around in the dark, sloshing around in the the toe-height chill of the water. After a few, stumbling steps, he knocked something over in the dark. Was that…a chair? He felt around some more. There were chairs and a table. Meaning the fur under the water was actually…carpet? Was he…was he in a house?

He fumbled around until he had roughly mapped out in his mind’s eye what must be the dining room and kitchen, then felt around from there for some sort of hallway where one might keep a flashlight or emergency supplies, all the while eerily confident that a giant, monstrous crab was going to snatch him out of the dark. Finally, he grasped what felt like the handle to a closet door and in a stroke of luck, found a flashlight.

After his eyes adjusted, he looked around and had one thought: “This looks just like my grandma’s house.”

And it did. Pink wallpaper, pastry plates in display shelves (all curiously shifted to one side), and spoons on the walls (all slightly tilted in their angle). Besides the water and the strange arrangement gravity had seemed to have taken on the objects in the room, the only oddity was that it was completely black. No light came even from the windows.

He walked over to one and saw that, besides the utter dark, there was a curious, milky whiteness on the other side of the glass. He pressed his face close to it in some vain hope of seeing beyond the veil when the light caught against the large round eye of a fish. He screeched a leapt back. Now he was certain that he was in some kind of sick Lovecraftian nightmare.

Against his better judgement, he ran to what he surmised to be the front door and flung it open. A huge, white belly forced its way into the door, translucent against the light and writhing with undersea grass and swishing tails. Right when he was sure he was moments from an eldritch, cosmic death, the whole house began to shake and shift. He felt gravity sway and pull him down the hallway as the floor moved beneath him. Seemingly pulled by unseen forces, the hallway felt less like that and more like an esophagus leading to Cthulu’s stomach.

Right when he was about to scream obscenities to God and his aunt Maggie (long story), the scene changed. He heard a rush of water, light poured through the windows, the belly in the doorway deflated of a sudden, and there were…voices? More than voices, it was the sound of heavy machinery.

When the seismic motions finally stopped, he cautiously approached the front door, beyond which he heard voices. The skin of the belly, he now saw, had writing on it, and up close it read: “Tyvek.”

Plastic wrap? Greg thought. What the hell is…

No sooner had he thought the question than a utility knife thrust through the industrial plastic and Greg was face-to-face with a mustachio’d man in a tow-truck company jumpsuit. The both of them squealed at each other, and the next moment Greg was surrounded by a gaggle of uniformed officers who, in perfect stereo, all shouted, “Freeze!”

*

“Jesus, Greg,” sighed his friend Curtis. “You’ve outdone yourself this time.”

Curtis sat with Greg on the back ramp of an ambulance rig, a heat blanket draped over his shoulders and Starbucks in both their hands. They just been shown security footage from the dockside cabin of Greg, at 2:30 in the morning, backing up an enormous flatbed truck carrying a mobile home to the edge of the water, climbing on the to roof while screaming something about “ferrying the Great Turtle Charon,” and falling through a skylight. At approximately 3:14, the truck’s brakes gave out rolled out into the lake, sinking the house just up the edge of the roof.

“I think a homeless man gave me acid,” said Greg.

“No,” said Curtis, “you accepted acid from a homeless man. And probably more than just that. Jesus.”

Greg hung his head.

“But hey,” continued Curtis, “at least we still have this. Turns out the lady who’s house you dunked was a fan.” And he handed Greg one of his own bobble-heads.

Greg looked at the bobble-head, back to Curtis, then back to the bobble-head.

And through it in the lake.

END

The Take: Sorry, sort of rushed it there at the end, but I like the Hangover-style adventure that came of this one. Hope it was coherent enough for y’all. See you Thursday!

Ciao.

Lessons from the Deep

Whaaaaat’s up everybody? Happy-

…Tuesday! (Sorry, I actually had to scratch my chin to remember what day it was and wanted to reflect that here.)

Wanted to get this out earlier today, but the hectic nature of trying to sell the house now that it’s good and flipped, well, you get it. Now that we’re here, so cues the part where I tell you the passing thought that just cartwheeled around the yard, wispily threaded its way through the window, and slipped through my ear to the top of my head:

If you’ve never been to a speak-easy, like, a “real” one that adheres to its theme, you owe it to yourself. On a recent trip to L.A. for my friends’ wedding, my girlfriend Amanda and I found (okay, really, she found it and I just went) a Speak-Easy the night before the wedding, and y’all, it was AWESOME. I’m talking had to spot the bouncer out front looking inconspicuous out front of the inconspicuous building, get the night’s password out of him, go down a back alley (where Mandy swung my hand all giddy-like while I thought we were gonna get dirked), make a turn where we found a red light, knock on the door where a man on the other side pulled a curtain and asked for the password – the Whole Nine. If you find yourself in Pasadena and in the very specific, nameless speak-easy I’m talking about, get the Mama’s Poison – it’s tops, daddio.

Anyway, in the name of flipping (two paragraphs ago – poor segue), we’re going to go through our little flip book again (like we did last week).

Here’s how it’s gonna go: I’m gonna stop typing to briefly flip through randomly for a prompt, probably sit with my mouth agape for a moment or two while observing what it comes up with, then decide whether or not to tell you before or after to tell y’all what the parameters were.

Ready?

Cool.

-flippy flips-

Heh heh heh, I love this thing.

Alright, so this time, we got the following:

  • Following a disastrous job interview,
  • a big-time weather reporter
  • wakes up in a strange house

Same as last time, we’re taking this nice and gently, not rushing and stressing the shit out of it like on previous fan/friend submitted prompts – even though those turn out awesome and we’ll get back to them soon.

Without further adieu…

The Dark Below Pepperdine Circle

The man in the suit clapped his hand on the desk as he laughed. He had thick fingers and a heavy ring that knocked against the wood. It was here Greg also noticed the two metal teeth on the man’s bottom row, as well as the thickness of his sideburns. He would’ve said something, but he hadn’t exactly had the power in the conversation thus far as it was.

“I love it!” the man boomed. “Oh, I love it, I tell ya! You go ahead and keep that, and you’ll hear from us within the week!” Greg took the item in question from the man in the suit as he resumed laughing. He laughed unceasingly while he held the door open for Greg, during the entire escort to the parking lot, and laughed still as the front door of the office building closed to officiate their parting. Greg walked out to his car, threw his briefcase in the back, and drove around to the other side of the lot, where he parked again, and let his head fall onto the horn for a good long while.

This was the seventh interview that had pushed daisies in the last four days. He looked to the bobble-head James had given him. It was a small figure of Greg, with the usual over-sized head, but an expression of bewildered discomfort and a cartoon-like, green gas cloud erupting from his bottom. “Come on,” his wife had said. “John and Stacey have been inviting us over for weeks. They want to do fish tacos and play some games. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Karen,” Future Greg would say. “Maybe John and Stacey don’t know a spatula from an flattened duck foot. Maybe that rank-ass fish ruins my gut live on air and gets me fired. Maybe I come home that day to bitch about it, and find John bending you over my billiard table. Maybe I move out and live on Curtis’s couch for three months. Maybe, when I’m finally ready to start job hunting again, I find out I’m a new goddamn meme format. So, no, Karen. Fuck their tacos.”

He took his head off the horn and got out of his car, whereupon he hurled the bobble-head over the curve of the nearest building’s wall and started kicking the hell out of his tires. When his tirade finally calmed, he looked up to see an older man staring at him from the sidewalk. He wore a beanie, weathered jacket, finger-less gloves, and sat in a wheelchair. “What the fuck do you want?” Greg screamed, red in the face.

His flat expression unchanged, the homeless man held out a hand with a tab of acid suspended between two fingers. Greg’s heavy breathing slowly returned to normal under the weight of his confusion at first, but then began instead weighing the consequences.

Thus began a series of poor choices.

*

Greg woke up to a splash of water going up his nose. His burning sinuses and coughing fit immediately roused him to consciousness, but he found he was in utter darkness. His eyes opened wide in the black, that they might drink in any wayward light, but to no avail. He could tell he was lying on his stomach in water that was maybe two inches deep, and his fingers were against something soft, like wet fur under the water. He scrambled away at first, imagining he was on the back of a sleeping aquatic bear or wildebeest. When he didn’t hear a roar or the crunching of his own bones, he sopped his way to his knees and listened. Beyond his own heavy breathing, he heard the very soft lapping of water somewhere, distant in the void. And something like…the crunching of gift wrap?

He fumbled about in his pocket for his phone and its flashlight, but when he tried to touch the screen, nothing. Damn, he thought. Soaked.

He began feeling his way around in the dark, sloshing around in the the toe-height chill of the water. After a few, stumbling steps, he knocked something over in the dark. Was that…a chair? He felt around some more. There were chairs and a table. Meaning the fur under the water was actually…carpet? Was he…was he in a house?

He fumbled around until he had roughly mapped out in his mind’s eye what must be the dining room and kitchen, then felt around from there for some sort of hallway where one might keep a flashlight or emergency supplies, all the while eerily confident that a giant, monstrous crab was going to snatch him out of the dark. Finally, he grasped what felt like the handle to a closet door and in a stroke of luck, found a flashlight.

After his eyes adjusted, he looked around and had one thought: “This looks just like my grandma’s house.”

And it did. Pink wallpaper, pastry plates in display shelves (all curiously shifted to one side), and spoons on the walls (all slightly tilted in their angle). Besides the water and the strange arrangement gravity had seemed to have taken on the objects in the room, the only oddity was that it was completely black. No light came even from the windows.

He walked over to one and saw that, besides the utter dark, there was a curious, milky whiteness on the other side of the glass. He pressed his face close to it in some vain hope of seeing beyond the veil when the light caught against the large round eye of a fish. He screeched a leapt back. Now he was certain that he was in some kind of sick Lovecraftian nightmare.

Against his better judgement, he ran to what he surmised to be the front door and flung it open. A huge, white belly forced its way into the door, translucent against the light and writhing with undersea grass and swishing tails. Right when he was sure he was moments from an eldritch, cosmic death, the whole house began to shake and shift. He felt gravity sway and pull him down the hallway as the floor moved beneath him. Seemingly pulled by unseen forces, the hallway felt less like that and more like an esophagus leading to Cthulu’s stomach.

Right when he was about to scream obscenities to God and his aunt Maggie (long story), the scene changed. He heard a rush of water, light poured through the windows, the belly in the doorway deflated of a sudden, and there were…voices? More than voices, it was the sound of heavy machinery.

When the seismic motions finally stopped, he cautiously approached the front door, beyond which he heard voices. The skin of the belly, he now saw, had writing on it, and up close it read: “Tyvek.”

Plastic wrap? Greg thought. What the hell is…

No sooner had he thought the question than a utility knife thrust through the industrial plastic and Greg was face-to-face with a mustachio’d man in a tow-truck company jumpsuit. The both of them squealed at each other, and the next moment Greg was surrounded by a gaggle of uniformed officers who, in perfect stereo, all shouted, “Freeze!”

*

“Jesus, Greg,” sighed his friend Curtis. “You’ve outdone yourself this time.”

Curtis sat with Greg on the back ramp of an ambulance rig, a heat blanket draped over his shoulders and Starbucks in both their hands. They just been shown security footage from the dockside cabin of Greg, at 2:30 in the morning, backing up an enormous flatbed truck carrying a mobile home to the edge of the water, climbing on the to roof while screaming something about “ferrying the Great Turtle Charon,” and falling through a skylight. At approximately 3:14, the truck’s brakes gave out rolled out into the lake, sinking the house just up the edge of the roof.

“I think a homeless man gave me acid,” said Greg.

“No,” said Curtis, “you accepted acid from a homeless man. And probably more than just that. Jesus.”

Greg hung his head.

“But hey,” continued Curtis, “at least we still have this. Turns out the lady who’s house you dunked was a fan.” And he handed Greg one of his own bobble-heads.

Greg looked at the bobble-head, back to Curtis, then back to the bobble-head.

And through it in the lake.

END

The Take: Sorry, sort of rushed it there at the end, but I like the Hangover-style adventure that came of this one. Hope it was coherent enough for y’all. See you Thursday!

Ciao.

Station 36: The Cutest Space Tale on the Market Today

Hey all, happy Thursday!

First things first, did you know that a) there’s an actual, real-life Topgun school (yes, like the Tom Cruise movie), and b) in said school, the staff can be fined $5 for referencing or quoting the movie? And here we all thought it was a men’s volleyball club (#CORNYJOKE).

Anyhoo! With that out of the way, we’re going to keep this week rolling with the original mission statement of this thang and make like an Autobot with an old piece, this particular one being near and dear to my heart (a liiiiittle unlike yesterday’s).

I think I’ve mentioned before that after taking part in one of NYC Midnight’s Short Fiction contests, I adopted a bastardized version of their system to form a short-lived writers’ club I called ‘Soapbox Writers’ (I know I went over it more in-depth in an interview with NightLight pod’s Tonia Thompson – if ya in tha mood). The gist is that you’re given a random genre, character, and object, and a 2,500-word limit. So I drafted up some lists and we gave ourselves some assignments as a sort of workshop.

Today’s is one of those.

Up at the top, the parameters for this little gem were as follows:
-Genre: Science Fiction
-Character: Floor Sweeper
-Featured Object: A Magician’s Wand

I think we did alright. But, without further adieu…

Station 36

“Gah!” shouted Mr. Lin, another gout of flame erupting beside him. The flames licked the sides of his jumpsuit and their heat singed his ears. He ducked below the spouting fire to the sound of more shrill cries behind him. The Specimen was getting close. He rounded a corner sharply and ran down the wide hallway to the Departure Bay, frantically checking the sides for any escape pod that hadn’t yet left. Amid all the blaring red lights, there was one still flashing green and so the custodian dove headlong into it, the door sealing closed moments before the Specimen came crashing against the glass. It was large and formless, an amoebic mass of green gelatin already littered with the polished bones of the other members of the station, and this was only part of it.

Breathless, Lin whispered a bit of thanks to the powers that be and pulled the escape pod’s manual release. He heard the thruster-mechanism whir and the cockpit shunted hard yet remained in place. “No, no, no,” Lin disparaged, but an encouraging beeping tone came in response from his shoulder. “What? Ah, Archie, no. I couldn’t ask you to do that.” The tone melodically beeped again and Lin sighed. “Thank you, buddy. This means…well, everything to me. Just find the command console in Maintenance, clear the jam, and get back here quick, alright?”

Archie gave a happy, affirmative beep.

*

The Automated Robotic Characterized Helper with Integrated Essentials, or Archie-unit for short. Resembling a metallic horseshoe crab with scrubbers, Archie was outfitted with an array of cleaning solutions and compounds, mobility scrubbers and stain-removal treads, a class C problem-solving matrix, as well as many other utilities to assist in his duties. Archie was Mr. Lin’s assistant and long time companion. He had known the Zora Railway-Station 36 as his only home since his manufacturing date in 2393.

The facility served many purposes. It’s position within Jupiter’s orbit made it a central stop for travelers and corporations of all walks and was thus suited to service every need from research accommodations to communications relay to munitions storage. Until recently, it had been a most fit facility to service, in Archie’s opinion. He puttered along the dark, half-collapsed passageways in search of the facility’s Maintenance command console, leaving a light trail of bubbles in his wake. The destruction of the station had been quite extensive, leaving Archie a bit at a navigational loss. That was when he heard the voice of Wand speak to him.

“Up ahead, facility diagnostics show a break in a nitrogen-duct line suitable for your traversal,” spoke Wand. The Wireless Archie-unit Navigational Device, Wand was Mr. Lin’s voice when he was not near or otherwise indisposed. Archie happily beeped, found the crevice Wand spoke of, and squeezed his way through. He made his way down the sloping duct and on the other side his audio sensors detected something. It was a sound like machinery under strain, understandable given the station’s current predicament, but Archie was drawn to it nonetheless. He exited the duct and found a WART-unit – a Warehouse Automotan and Regulation Transporter – with its left arm firmly crushed up to the shoulder in a mobile compactor.

The Wart-unit looked to Archie and the red lens of its optical sensor turned an expressive, pleading blue as it spoke. “Um, would you mind lending a hand? I seem to have gotten myself in a pickle.” Archie beeped joyfully in response, roved up onto the side of the compactor and began greasing Wart’s arm at the shoulder. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about lubrication, it’s quite thoroughly crushed. Might you simply hit the safety nodes and give the release tab a good pull? My design never did put flexibility as a foremost concern I’m afraid, else I’d have done it myself.” Archie bubbled an acquiescent tone and, extending two rubber-tipped grappling prongs, did as he was asked. A moment later, Wart’s arm came free with only a slight crunching sound.

“Ah, that’s much better,” said Wart with an electronic sigh of relief. “Thank you for your help.”

Archie gave a jubilant beep and proceeded to explain his quest.

“Hmm, your dialect is strange. Are you an 0W-1 model?”

Archie affirmed with a series of tones.

“Hmm,” nodded Wart. “Well, that all sounds…problematic. Do you think you could use a little help?”

Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of joyful acceptance as he bubbled down the passageway with Wart following closely behind him.

Wand directed the two down an old transport tunnel, normally reserved for shuttling Masters of the station between departments. The shuttle currently lied on its side, quite inoperable, and the two traversed the railway with measured caution. Archie would relay instructions and the counsel of Wand, and Wart would use his remaining good arm to clear wreckage as needed. This continued until they came to a collapsed portion of tunnel that Wart couldn’t clear and Wand advised use of a side access passage. The two did so and exited into a portion of the station designated to arcology research and development.

In the middle of the cavernous space stood an enormous structure, resembling a great pyramid, though with the intricate weaving aesthetic of a beehive. Archie searched his internal memory banks and recalled what this department had once looked like when he and Mr. Lin were called to clean a spill of synthetic amber dust. It had been as large, but vibrantly green and colorful with floura from Earth. Now, it was bare metal, all organic components of the structure thoroughly stripped by the Specimen. It had seemed to Archie this was the Specimen’s means of replication, through the consumption and conversion of organic material.

Archie relayed this thought process to Wart, who nodded. “My logic-processing matrices are limited,” he said, “but that makes sense to me. Perhaps this is why we may travel the station freely and the Masters either fled or expired.”

“Please proceed to Maintenance command,” informed Wand.

The two proceeded in the given direction, though found the room to be without a constructed exit. After minutes of searching, the droids came across a hole in the structure’s outer barrier. Examining its edges, Archie determined the damage that caused the hole was corrosion, though, according to his internal service-completion data log, nothing kept in the arcology department should be capable of such a thing. He suppressed the urge to erase the residue and informed Wart of his finding, who simply shrugged his good shoulder and said: “Curious.” Passing through the opening, they found themselves on a bridge-like platform in a space between departmental walls. Great structural support beams crisscrossed on either side and a dark void of empty space echoed below them.

Archie beeped a tone of caution and engaged his suction treads. Wart followed closely behind, the magnetic bolts in his feet thudding heavily across the metallic beam. When the two were halfway across, a creaking sound came from the platform and the two were forced to hurry. Archie puttered swiftly along and Wart attempted to run, but it was soon apparent the two wouldn’t make it before the beam broke under Wart’s heavy frame. Wart looked down to the little cleaning droid. “Thank you again for your assistance,” he simply said before picking Archie off the rail and throwing him to the other side, where he clattered to a stop and quickly turned around to see Wart fall into the darkness below.

This time Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of somber blue lines as he puttered in the direction that Wand had indicated.

As Archie explored the new room he’d been thrown into, he found a most curious sight. He’d landed in one of the station’s long-term storage spaces, loaded with crates, barred containers, canisters, and glass housings of all kinds. What he found so curious was more of the corrosion damage about the wall he’d come through as well as along the floor. Archie couldn’t help himself this time. He engaged his scrubbers, set them to [Mode: Abrasive], and began attempting to erase the copper-green residue about the floor. As he did this, he followed the trail back to its source: a rack of plasma-battery munitions. Archie’s odorant-fume detectors noted an improper seal in the battery. The utility bot calculated that the improper seal, combined with the duration of its storage, had led to the leak and thus the damages to the surrounding area. Archie continued his programmed obsessive cleaning subroutine when Wand’s voice broke over the sound of his scrubbing.

“Please continue north to Maintenance command, utilizing Exit 3A.”

Archie did as he was bid, but followed a trail of corrosion and in his inattention bumped into one of the area’s containers. He scanned the label on its side before maneuvering carefully around it: ‘Specimen Beta-F – Io sample’. Archie hummed his way through the indicated Exit3A, pondering the label’s meaning. The voice of Wand came through once more.

“Expedited task completion requested. Specimen incoming: Imminent. Operator expiration: Imminent.”

The little utility bot’s internal engine hummed as he sped down the hall toward Maintenance command. He found his way into the tiny office through the small flap made for him by Mr. Lin some years ago. He puttered up onto the console, accidentally spilling a receptacle of his Master’s caffeinated fuel, reserving to attend to the mess at a later priority level. He inserted his digi-key to the control panel and engaged the Departure Bay’s exhaust thrusters to clear the blockage. A diagnostic message displayed on the panel in return: ‘Error. Remote directive relay damaged. Unable to complete request.’

Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of angry red lines as he bubbled hastily down the way he had come, cursing loudly in binary code.

The blockage would need to be removed manually.

As Archie passed back through Arcology, having found an alternate route between departments, his memory banks returned to Wart and the selfless act of utility that had gotten him to the command console. This thought interfaced with his ethics chip and, while it was a Mark I, it was enough for Archie to determine he still felt sad for Wart’s sacrifice. As Archie processed this, a sound gave him pause. His audio receptors detected a sound coming from the service tunnel and observed it to be a mass of Specimen Beta-F blocking his entrance into the tunnel.

“Expedited task completion requested,” came Wand’s voice once more. “Outer Lifeboat Class escape pod membrane at 19%.”

Archie’s problem-solving matrix hummed and clicked. His time was short and could not afford him the opportunity to be polite. He reconfigured his internal cleaning solution compartments and generated a selection of Solution 12-B. He readied his nozzle and sprayed the Specimen blocking his way, which began sizzling immediately. It withdrew into the corner as Archie roved through the mist of solution he’d created. It was then he heard the Specimen shriek wildly. Archie turned to see its form growing aggressively erratic and sped just out of reach as it lashed a whip-like tendril out his way. It was at this moment Archie realized the compound he’d used contained micro-algae: making the solution organic in nature.

Archie raced away as quickly as his scrubbers would carry him. Wand repeated her message and directed him along as he tore through duct after duct, through tiny crevice after tiny crevice, all the while with the Specimen hotly in pursuit. Eventually, Archie came to a section of the tunnel that was completely collapsed and turned to see the Specimen closing in. His problem-solving matrix grew hot as it calculated an exit, but was ultimately fruitless. He was just preparing a farewell message and apology to Wand when a heavy crash sounded in front of him. There in front of Archie, with a compromised right knee joint that sizzled and sparked, stood the heavy frame of Wart.

The automaton collided with the Specimen as it came upon them. The pneumatic pistons in his remaining good arm whined as again and again it struck the creature. The Specimen shrieked, jittered, and lashed out at Wart, damaging his frame and severing one of his fuel pumps. He began to slow greatly as the black oil gushed from a wound in his torso. At that moment, Archie chimed and he frantically beeped an instruction to Wart.

“You want me to what?” exclaimed Wart, a confused pink color adorning his lens.

Archie repeated himself in a wild, static-riddled tone.

“I sure do hope you have a plan, chap. Here goes nothing, I suppose.” With that, Wart redirected his pressure capacitors. Fuel jetted from his chest like hose, covering the specimen entirely. Archie went to work quickly. He used his rubberized prongs to grasp one of the many exposed, sparking cables and dragged it to the ceiling above the battling droid and alien creature. He beeped an apologetic message to Wart before dropping the cable onto the two of them. The mass of Specimen Beta-F erupted into flames and withered away, shrieking and bubbling, eventually growing still.

Wart stood up, his frame creaking and spasming horribly. “That was quick thinking. How did you know we Mk. II’s had a flame retardant coating?”

Archie beeped sheepishly.

“Ah, well I suppose a hunch is good enough. You…look well.”

Archie gave an electronic huff, quickly explained the pressing time, and bubbled away a short distance before turning to see that Wart followed.

“Yes, you’re welcome, of course.”

Together, the two droids made their way back to the Departure Bay, out an exterior airlock, and around to the exhaust port that contained the blocked machinery. From the new angle, Archie could observe directly what it was that was causing the jam: a broken piece of the solar array’s wing had gotten stuck in the pod’s release, like a sliver of steel pinned between links of chain. Archie set to work. He exhausted his oiliest cleaning solutions to grease the sliver and tugged at it with his prongs but it wouldn’t budge.

“Lifeboat pod hull integrity at 7%,” reminded Wand.

Archie pulled and pulled, but his frame was too light and his micro-engine muscle strands were too thin, meant for sweeping dust not hauling debris. Archie beeped pleadingly to Wart. The sturdy warehouse automaton crawled weakly onto the space with Archie. He grasped the end of the sliver, braced his good knee joint, and pulled. The sliver grinded some, but was stuck nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, little friend,” panted Wart. “I’m afraid I’ve lost too much fuel. I’m out of gas.”

Archie’s ocular receptors went wide with an idea. He began reconfiguring the last of his cleaning solutions, converting whatever ethanol remained in his system and beeped directly at Wart.

“You are full of ideas aren’t you, little master?” He reached down and grasped Archie and set him on his shoulder. Archie detached Wart’s back panel and fit his solution release directly into Wart’s fuel injector. His pneumatic pistons whirred and hummed and fired brightly. With a mechanical strain, Wart grasped the sliver again and pulled hard, drawing it freely from the pod’s release and holding it aloft to gleam brightly in the light of stars.

Together, they watched the pod detach from the station and float away before its thrusters engaged. Wand’s voice came through, and while the words weren’t coherent through the static, Archie could feel the tone of gratitude and farewell. Slowly, he turned to Wart. The two receded back into the station, now thoroughly abandoned by Mr. Lin and the other Masters, but their mission accomplished. Archie set to repairing Wart with scrap around the station as a long term project, before remembering the coffee spill in Maintenance.

END

The Take: Alright, first off, if you were one of the clever few that caught the ‘Sword in the Stone’ homages, I salute you. For those that didn’t, totally a-okay, because I had to do a lot of homework to think I got it right. But yeah, “Archie” being short for “Archimedes,” “Mr. Lin” as a spelling stand-in for “Merlin,” and “Wart” being Arthur’s nickname, so on and so forth.
Now, you’ll also notice that for Mr. Lin and all the acronyms especially, they really only work when you read them, which is why I’ll now confess I originally made the genius move to include all those elements for what was originally an oral presentation (don’t repeat my mistakes, kids – stay in school).
Overall, I like this one. Came together in a bit of a rush, and ended a bit abruptly (finished it five minutes after that night’s meeting started), but it’s always been a little near and dear to my heart. I find it cute. Tried to make the mystery intriguing enough without bogging it down with unnecessary detail, but really, I guess that’s up to y’all to tell me whether or not that effort succeeded.

Anyway, hope ya enjoyed it, and I’ll catch you fabulous persons Tuesday.

Ciao!

Today’s FableFact source: https://www.amc.com/talk/2011/08/story-notes-trivia-top-gun
(Link may be goofy. It may be my fault. It might be your fault. Could be the work of a masked man not yet befuddled by the Mystery Gang. Can’t say)