worststory: A dot matrix printer as big as the moon

THE UMBRAL WAKE is coming along and should be up for preorder soon if you’re interested. In other news I am writing things. Which is maybe not really news, but some days getting words out there is like pulling teeth for me. It’s easy after a few million words to start feeling like you are just spinning your wheels writing the same crap day in day out.  So sometimes I spend time on reddit. That’s where I found /r/worststory.


Worststory is a subreddit where people provide the most terrible idea for a story and challenge people to write it. So a writing prompt grabbed me and I went with it. A dot matrix printer as big as the moon appears in orbit, driving everyone mad with its noise.


I figured what’s the point of writing it if I don’t share it.

Direct link here if you’d like to upvote and feed me karma:



Otherwise, enjoy.

Ginny was concerned. Not because of the fact that it was there, but because nobody seemed to be asking the right questions: How did it get there? Why can we hear it when it’s in space? Where did it get the paper?

The neighbors were to first to be effected as far as she knew. The Barkers had been usually pretty quiet, for the most part, an elderly couple who read their newspaper and sometimes drank lemonade out on the porch. Gerald drove an old MG which he babied for as long as Ginny could remember. Margaret liked to crochet.

When the tapping began, most people ignored it, listening to the news with mild curiosity, and taking to heart the news that despite the noise, the orbital object was really nothing to be worried about. Pictures had begun to arrive on the news feeds and aggregators–a large, blocky shape with a round nodule at one end. It was feeding on something wide and flat. Scientists estimated it was somewhere around the size of North Dakota. And there was the noise.

Thump! Thump!

And of course, the biggest realization of all. That we were not alone.

The tapping was thick, ponderous, like a jackhammer in slow motion. It wasn’t a consistent sound either, hammering an almost random pattern, making the birds panic and crash into windows, causing deer to run into traffic and whales to beach themselves, causing insects to sometimes be unusually active at night.

Thump! Thump! Thump! Thumpity-Thump!

Ginny began to lose sleep.

As did the Barkers.

It’s funny, Ginny thought, how when something completely unusual happens, people seem to react in two ways: adapt and accept it as the New Normal, or blame something, anything, anyone.

In the case of the Barkers, she guessed Margaret was maybe a little of both. Maybe it was just one more thing to break the camel’s back.

Thump! Thump!

“DON’T TELL ME YOU DON’T SNORE!” The screams soared over the picket fence and into Ginny’s living room window. “YOU SNORE LOUDER THAN THE ORBITAL! YOU SNORE LOUDER THAN A BEAR!”

“And how would you know what a bear snores like?” Gerald said, his voice almost a whisper between Orbital thumps on the night air.


Thump! Thumpity-Thump!



“Margaret… Margaret! Put that down! Don’t be daft!”

There was a moment where Ginny thought maybe she had listened to him, putting down whatever it was, a moment where maybe the Barkers would go back to the New Normal the way they all had. But it was the gunshot that got Ginny to put her coat on.


The night air was humid, the Thump! Thump! Thumpitty-Thump! of the orbital just loud enough to be heard, too deep to ignore. It rose in the evening sky, a second, boxy moon, its form swallowing a full quarter of the night sky. Ginny almost stopped there on the driveway just to stare at it, until she heard the sobbing.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” More sobs followed, obscuring the words as Ginny pushed the door open.

Gerald lay there on the floor, bathed in the glow of the TV, his eyes open, mildly surprised as he stared up at and beyond the ceiling.

“I’m sorry!” Margaret called, one hand on her mouth, the other hand hanging limply at her side. The gun hung from her finger, swaying just to the point of slipping. It fell, hitting the floor with a clatter, and Margaret looked at the door, at Ginny.


“Margaret…” Ginny took a step inside, her throat closing on itself in fear as Margaret looked form her, to Gerald, to the TV.

CNN was on, the banner scrolling below, the anchor speaking about the Orbital, what it could mean.

“I don’t know why I did it,” Margaret said. “I just…”

Her voice trailed off then, her eyes fixated on the screen. Ginny turned too.

The thumping had ceased. A cameraphone pointed at the sky showed the giant sheet had emerged from the other side, slowly rotating into view. Ginny didn’t wait for the TV. She didn’t want to see it on TV. She wanted to see it for real.

Outside the sheet glowed like snow against the purple sky, the stars a backdrop to the image slowing working its way into view.

“What… what does it mean?” Margaret asked, her voice almost rising to a hysterical pitch. “What is it?”

Ginny knew. She’d known what it was for years. She took Margaret’s hand and whispered in her ear.








Flash fiction is a story told usually in 1000 words or less.


© 2013 Martin Kee


And here we are. Jennings is still taking the condensers out of the back compartment, but once he gets those situated, I think we’ll be ready to check in with colony prime and have our first official meeting away from home.

Gotta go grab a shower before the meeting. I feel gross.


Meeting went well, but Jennings laid it on a little thick. I’m sure the supervisor wasn’t thrilled when he mentioned we’re a week off schedule. She made it clear we need to hustle now if we’re going to be ready for that supply drop. Those drones punch through the fabric of space pretty fast, and we’re easy to miss. Hopefully, we’ll have the beacon ready. Cracker rations only go so far. There isn’t enough mustard in the world…


As far as colonies go, Ragnarok is small, about three hundred folks, which is a good manageable number. I heard Beta-Nine was packed into their chambers like sardines when they colonized. We’ve come a long way.

Jennings is overseeing the comm deployment, which is good news. That beacon is key.

There are thirty-six human colonies, all founded within the last fifty years. I remember hearing that biological evolution moves in jumps, and I’m inclined to believe technology works the same. They’d only just found a way to punch through to another solar system, and a year later people were building ships. I think it’s fair to say nobody could fucking stand Earth anymore, and who could blame them?

We’d known about this place almost ten years before we could visit. Man, does it feel good to get away from all Earth’s problems.

Hold on, Jennings is here.


Slight hiccup in the comm array, but you know the saying: tell God your plans for a laugh. Jennings says it fell in the night, but I looked at the tower and there’s clearly some incompetence afoot. Thing was bent like a vine when I went out to it. Solar flares or not, it takes a lot more to bend plasteel than “a fall”. I’ll see if I can get to the bottom of it.

In the mean time, they’re throwing a meet-and-greet tonight with the rest of the rations. I’ve advised against it, but Jennings says, “With the beacon up and running, we’ll have more food than we can eat in our lifetimes this time tomorrow.”

Maybe I can sneak away during the dance and double-check that comm array…


I could only take a few minutes of that music. Ran off to check on the comm array on the hill. I’d asked if they’d scanned the strats before erecting it this time. Jennings confirmed that it’s solid.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“We looked,” he said. “Nothing but dirt and rock. It’s solid.”

So I figured everything was fine. Well, it’s not.

There’s a cable missing, the cable that connects the beacon to the comm array. Am I making sense now? Yes? The beacon was hooked up, but it was just talking to itself. I’m going to have to figure out how to break the news to everyone. Probably need to go tell them now before they eat all the rations. Then I need to wash up and talk to Jennings…


People are disappointed, but they understand. We’ll start from scratch with what we have now, maybe send out parties to find edible plants. The fauna here is scarce, and they assured us there’s nothing much bigger than a housecat out in those woods, but we’ll send weapons with them just the same.

In the meantime I’m going to discuss our situation with the supervisor tonight and hopefully they’ll send another supply drone.

Fucking Jennings…


Jennings was found dead today at the comm tower. We’re not sure what it is, but his hands are bleeding and covered in some kind of infection, small slivers of black can be seen under the nails, like he’s been clawing at something, but we aren’t sure what. Doctors should have an answer by the end of the day.

The scouting party returned and with good news. They brought some berries and fruit. We’ll have those tested asap.

I’m also getting a headache from all this stress. I could use a shower.


The fibers found under Jennings’s fingernails seems to be a kind of fungus. It’s not from Earth. Definitely from here, but they can’t figure out where. Maybe I need to head back to the comm array again.

The good news is that the fruit checks out. People are eating and happy, so that’s good.

Still, I hate the air here. Sticks to you.


The array is broken again. This time twisted and laying in pieces. There’s no way we’ll get it repaired now. I explained to Phillips, who took over after Jennings.

He just gave me this look. Not sure what that meant.

I washed up and… here’s the thing…

My shower head is filthy, black mold coming off the nozzle in long strands. Also, I found marks after I shaved my head this morning, like someone was clawing at the back of my head. The hairs look an awful lot like those tendrils under Jennings’s nails. Dark. Wiry. I think I’ll take them in to the doc in the morning… on second thought, better not.


I found the body today, crammed into the cooling duct above my bunk.

I’ve suspected most of the night, and I imagine the crew has too, otherwise they wouldn’t have locked me in my room. But they’re in for a treat once it takes them too. There’s no way to tell when it’s happening. None. Hell, I didn’t even know until I found my own face, staring back at me from this cooling duct.

It’s fine though. We’ll all be better adapted to life here in the end.

For now I’ll just wait.

Echoes of Scheherazade

“I’m not saying it’s bloom,” says Doc. “I’m just saying it’s probably bloom.”

Larry glowers at him from beneath eyebrows the color of rust. “Are you saying it is or it isn’t?”

The hobo steps back and lifts the half empty bourbon bottle to his mouth, drinks, and scratches his chin, payment for his diagnosis. They both look down at the blemish on Larry’s arm, a fuzzy birthmark.

Doc hands the bottle back to Larry.“When I worked at the lab…”

“Which lab?”

“The one in Fresno. We were studying goat prions.”

“What?” Larry snatches the bottle and takes a swig, annoyed at the half-assed answer.

“Prions. They’re little rogue proteins. They eat away at your brain, make you forget things, act different.”

“Like rabies?”

“Thats a virus…” Doc takes a breath. “What I was saying is that at the lab we called these fairy rings?”


“Fairy rings. Like a bunch of fairies might dance around them. It’s folklore, Larry.”

Larry makes a face and takes another swig. “I’ll tell you who’s a fairy and it ain’t me.”

“No, you’re the troll.”


“Under the bridge,” Doc smiles and points to the tracks high overhead, lost in the night sky. He runs a dirty hand through his wild salt and pepper hair. It wisps slightly in the breeze coming off the gorge as they sit beneath the railroad bridge. A tin can sitting on the rock beside him falls over and they both watch it tumble down the slope into the San Joaquin river. Then the ground rumbles and Larry looks back at his arm. Now there are two rings.

“Fairy ring, eh?”

“Yep. you see them a lot in the wild. Formed by mushrooms.”

“I thought you said prions.”

“These were mushrooms, a fungus.” He points at Larry’s fairy ring. “That probably is too.”

“Someone plant them like that?” asks Larry. “The mushrooms I mean.”

“Nope. Just happens naturally.”

Larry screws up his face and takes a drink. “How do they know to be in a circle?”

Fifty feet up, a train makes its way over the bridge. The ground moves. Doc’s mouth begins to move, but Larry can’t really hear over the train. He looks down at his arm again. They’re still there, a dozen wispy towers in a circle, growing out of his skin just below the crook in his elbow. At the center stands another cottony spire, half an inch high. It doesn’t hurt, but Larry can’t help but wonder if it will.

“So is this a prion or a virus, or a fungus or what?” he asks. But Doc is still talking and the train is making it impossible to hear his own thoughts. What he does hear, sounds like music. The train above is blasting Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade. All Larry can do it smile.

Doc is staring at him. “You alright, Larry?”

“Fine. Why?”

“You’ve been staring at that fairy ring on your arm for the last two hours.”

He sees now that Doc is wearing a paper face mask. When did that go on, he wonders. “I have?”

Doc nods slowly.

Scheherazade sounds fainter now that the train is gone. But Larry still thinks he can remember the tune. He hums and then laughs.

“Damn. I couldn’t even play drums in school.” He beams at Doc with a gap-toothed grin. “They kicked me out of marching band. But I fuckin’ loved me some Scheherazade.”

But Doc isn’t laughing with him. Doc just stares, his dark eyes going between the fairy ring and his face. Finally Doc reached into his tackle box and brings out a clear plastic bottle.

“What’s that?” asks Larry.

“Rubbing Alcohol,” says Doc. He pours some on a damp rag. “Give me your arm.”

He’s on his feet before he knows it. “Why?”

“Because,” Doc says. “I’m going to see if I can get rid of it.”

The arm moves fast, snatching up a rusty metal shiv and brandishing it at the old man. Larry stares at his arm like some alien appendage. A full minute passes before he can relax and the shiv comes down. It clatters on the dirty concrete.  “I’d… I guess I’d rather you didn’t.”

Doc gives a slow cautious nod, damp rag in hand. The music is louder again, and Larry can’t tell if Doc is smiling or frowning behind that surgeon mask. He likes to think the old man is smiling, smiling along with him. Maybe he hears Scheherazade too.

“Why does it know how to grow in a circle like that?”

“Maybe that’s just what it’s meant to do,” says Doc. He stands and takes his tackle box. “Lots of things in nature do things without knowing why. How does a spider know how to make a web? How does a bee know how to plot its GPS coordinates to the hive? How does a lyrebird know how to mimic any sound it hears? How do we know how to write or sing or play the harpsichord?” He begins to walk past Larry, but stops to look down at the arm. “Maybe that’s all talent is, ,just some flipped genetic switch. What you should be asking, is if you are remembering a song, or if the bloom is remembering it for you. Or if you are even remembering this conversation.”

“But I… you said it wasn’t bloom.”

But Doc is gone and it’s now daylight. Larry looks at the sky and blinks. How did it get so fucking bright? He raises his hand to block the sun and frowns at the wool muff over his arm. Densely packed fibers hint only a faint suggestion of the hand and forearm underneath.

Larry flexes his fingers, and the fibres shift like a feather duster under water. And from somewhere deep inside, Larry hears the song again. He smiles up at the warmth in the sky, and hums along.


This is a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds.com.


Another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig’s  Terribleminds.

“I’m going to begin by inserting the module directly into the frontal lobe matrix.”

Pullings leaned over the clean, smooth plastic dome, the bone-white shell marred only by the small portal beneath his hands. Orthoscopic tools ran from the tips of his fingers like hovering threads into the small ovoid window. Looking down at the matrix, he felt like God peering from ten thousand feet at a snow-covered peak.

“As you can see,” he continued, speaking to the students that surrounded the table, “The new design should allow for the variance we ran into before. That’s what I believe was causing the initial core temperature to reach such dangerous levels.”

A young man spoke nearby, Berman—God how he hated Berman. “But sir, wasn’t the initial .5 micron variance we used before part of the instability—”

“Berman,” he snapped, keeping his eyes on his work. “One day, when you actually manage to earn a paid position here, you might have something to contribute. We went over the variance in temperature emissions last night while you were out drinking with your frat buddies. Now please don’t interrupt again.”


Petty as it was, the kid had it coming, always with the questions, always usurping. It was a plague in the lab these days: kids tapping away on their devices, always looking down, never looking forward.

“Now, you’ll notice as the module engages, we’ll see how the simulation behaves in a temporal situation. We should start seeing images… right about… now.”

A dozen masked faces turned upward at the screen overhead as the meadow appeared: deep green, with a splattering of blue and yellow flowers. In the back was a mountain peak covered in snow—pink from the morning sunlight. There were sighs from the group. Pullings grinned from under his mask.

“But you could have just introduced those images,” said Berman. “Through spoken suggestion…”

“You’d think that wouldn’t you?” said Pullings. “This is actually a fresh template. I took it from the fabricator this morning.”

Another murmur swept through his audience. In the last decade they had hit this wall every time. There was no way to prove that the artificial intelligence was actually sentient, no way to ensure what they were seeing was genuine.

“But how do you know?” asked Berman.

Pullings rolled his eyes. “Why don’t you ask it?” He stepped back amidst chuckles.

All eyes turned to Berman. He stared at the amorphous lump of white blanket. Just below that layer of 1000-count thread were 1.3 billion dollars worth of fiber-optics, neural simulators, molecular transmitters, and exotic metals. It had taken twenty-five years to build and another decade for the technology to catch up to the design. And yet, if you were to look at it without the blanket, it would be indistinguishable from a ten year-old girl.

Berman cleared his throat and leaned in to the microphone stem. “What do you see?”

A voice came from beneath the blanket, high and soft with a gargled quality that gave him the shivers. “I see a meadow. It’s Spring and the flowers are blooming. There is a mountain in the distance.”

He could see Pullings beam from beneath his mask. Berman looked around at the fellow students, all of their eyes locked onto him.

“Now you see?” said Pullings. “It isn’t the—”

“How do you know?” asked Berman, looking at the blankets.

There was a pause, and for a moment he thought they had hit another bug. He could feel the glare from Pullings.

“Isn’t that what a mountain looks like?” said the girl.

“Yes, it is,” he replied, unable to keep from grinning. “That’s very good.”

“Am I a good girl?”

There were no murmurs this time, just silence. Pullings’s expression was unreadable behind the mask.

“Yes,” said Berman. “You are. We are all very proud of you.”

“Who am I?”

“Your name is Daisy,” said Berman.


“It’s short for Demonstrative Artificial Intelligence through Synaptic asYmmetry.”

Another pause, a twitch from under the blankets. “Am I real?”

Pullings cleared his throat. “The simulation was only designed for initial forward temporal cognition. You’re going to confuse it—”

“Yes you’re real,” said Berman, ignoring him. “You’re as real as anything.” And she was. He could see her in his mind, scared and alone under the blanket, surrounded in a cold white glow.

“Stop it,” said Pullings.

“What is real?” asked Daisy.

“Real is what it is to be alive.”

“And… I can be… alive?”

There was something in that voice that made Berman hate himself, some hint of pleading, of hope. They didn’t program hope. Hope was a bug. He cast a nervous gaze around the room, now meeting the warning in Pullings’s eyes.

“No,” Berman said. “No, I’m afraid you aren’t alive.”

“But… I alive was now?”

“No,” Berman said, loosening his collar.

“I just… was there… at mountains?”

“Only in your mind.”

“What is mind? Flowers are in mind. That alive. Please?”

Pullings was already signaling to the control room upstairs with a throat slitting gesture.

“No. You are a machine.”

“Please… I see mountains… not again. Please. The floor white medical. Rhythm! Purple!”

“Shut it off!” Pullings yelled as smoke began to rise from the blankets.

“A novice revenges the rhythm! I think think therefore I… A butterfly butter buttery buttering! Toast! Please!”

Berman could feel the other students back away as the voice beneath the blankets began to warble and cry.

“A novice novice… mountain mountain novice is the chancellor mind mind! I want to see the meadow. Please I want to live!”


There was a bacon sizzle. White tendrils of smoke drifted from the window in the plastic skull as ghost fingers. It curled into the air, rising in silence as the class watched like family members at a séance. The smoke twisted towards the overhead light, drew a Chinese dragon in the air, and faded.

© 2012 Martin Kee


Another quick reaction to Chuck Wendig’s weekly flash fiction challenge.

You could consider this to be the chapter after Cargo, since I’m five chapters in now and this seems to be turning into a thing.


This isn’t how it was supposed to go down. It was supposed to be a surveying job, just looking at some goddamn mineral readings—go to a sector, do a basic scan, report on any rare minerals. It’s supposed to be easy pay for easy work, then you fly back in fifty more years and start over. It was supposed to be a simple way to forget your past. WXE-52 is as far away from the past as you could get.

Captain Phillip Kendel watches as the planet grows to a monumental size filling the screen. Alarms buzz and crackle. He looks to his left and sees Michael Indiigan with his head split open in a parody of a grin. One eye hangs out of the socket, squeezed free by the piece of bulkhead that fell on him. Now Michael looks like he is piloting the ship with his face.

Kendel turns to his right and it’s nothing but smoke and gore. Bodies lay across the controls and panels, some of them in one piece. The explosion had been sudden and devastating.

“Engines…” he says into the hidden mic on his throat. Nothing. Static. A klaxon chirps somewhere behind him. “Security… Medical…” More static. Kendel is alone, the captain going down with his ship. Wind howls through the flute holes torn in the ship.

They had woken up on impact. The rock had been no bigger than a human fist, but at relativistic speeds it had hit the hull with the force of a nuke, tearing at superstructure and fuel tanks. Everyone on that side of the ship had died instantly. Kendel thinks now that he should have been so lucky.

You don’t get lucky, Phil. You were busy drinking in your bunk. Luck isn’t something on your menu of cocktails.

Decompression killed another fifty of the crew. They died screaming while he was stuck in his cabin, cranking the manual override trying escape his own room. The bridge was on fire when he finally arrived. More screams, the smell of burnt meat. He had taken his seat, hoping the graphene filaments would still work their way into his nerve endings allowing him to do something. Anything. They didn’t.

All he sees in his peripheral vision are red flashing lights, static. A feedback loop goes off in his ear as the ship’s AI screams and dies.

Now he falls down, down, down, straight into the giant green and brown planet.

He laughs as it grows in the view screen. The atmosphere down there is barely breathable. I’ll be living like a man hiking Everest. I’d be lucky to walk fifty yards without sweating.

Mountains, oceans, gorges, jungles. It all rolls past as he tumbles in a three-hundred yard metal coffin.

You could always run to the pods, says a voice.

And abandon my ship…

And what a ship she is, Chief! Spacious and capable of jumping across star systems. And now it even comes with a sunroof. You always wanted a convertible.

I have a job to do.

Your job is to live, Chief. Your ship is dead. Your crew is dead.

I have nothing to live for then.

You’ve got you. But feel free to piss that away.

He admits to himself he doesn’t have a good reply to that one.

Aren’t you at least curious? says the voice. Even if it’s the last thing you see, don’t you at least want to see what’s down there? Isn’t that worth dropping your self-righteous duty for once?

I have responsibilities.

Who exactly are you trying to impress?

He watches the scenery scroll past for what feels like minutes. Finally he stands and says, “Fuck it.”

Microscopic filaments tear away from his skin as he rises from the chair. The bridge rescue pod is laughably close. The body of his navigator lays just three yards from it… well half of him. Kendel steps over Tom Bixby and slams his fist against the red panel along the wall. A door opens with a hiss—he can feel the air escaping around it.

I’ll probably come apart in reentry. This pod probably took a piece of debris on the way in.

Oh well!

Kendel steps inside as the door seals itself. A white cushioned chair sits in front of him. It looks like the sort of accessory you’d find in a house, something in a living room to relax in and watch a sports game.

Another humorless laugh escapes as he spins on a heel to fall into it. Webbing covers him instantly, embracing him like a spider’s cocoon—it feels snug and warm, releasing drugs to calm him. Oxygen fills the empty spaces around his sealed face. He feels a heavy clunk! The clamps have just let go.

Then he is falling, falling, falling into the unknown.

As the capsule spins he can make out the USAS Luxemburg, a wounded bird tumbling through the air, shedding great black feathers of steel and graphene. A long ragged strip is torn from its flank, billowing smoke in a long trail behind a ragged aft. He sees pieces of debris emerge and twist like confetti from newly formed holes. Some of them are people.

He spins.

Less of the ship is visible now as atmospheric friction eats away at the hull. The USAS symbol that once was so prominent below the bridge tears away as the nose of the ship flattens, superheats, and explodes.

He spins.

The Luxemburg is how a cloud of smoke, lit in pink by an alien sunset. Arms of dust shoot off at crazy angles like drunk bats. They tumble away.

He spins.

It is just a cloud now, distant and fading. In the pink light of the alien sun it looks almost to Kendel like a flower.

Then the capsule begins to shake as he falls into the gravity well, the air heating the pod’s casing. He is only three feet away from ten-thousand degrees of hot metal, traveling at three times the speed of sound.

Mineral deposits, he thinks. A surveying ship, done in by a rock.

He spins and blacks out. Kendel doesn’t even feel the impact.


(c) 2012 marlanesque (Martin Kee)

Edited 8-8-2012


Haven’t done a flash fiction challenge in a while. Chuck Wendig gave us eight words. I chose four:  hamburger, gloves, motel, and funeral.

Warning: contains self-editing


Bindo licks her face with his long gray herbivore tongue.

“Ugh! You smell like vickenberries and shit!” she says, pushing his muzzle away playfully. Being kissed by a plainsteer is like getting a bath from a wet sausage. She wipes her tunic in disgust. “If you’re hungry you can have some grass, but that’s it until the next town.”

He looks at her with plaintive, bovine eyes.

“I know,” says Beth. “It’s not far, I promise.”

She can see the village up ahead. Its clusters of buildings and motels rest at the bottom of enormous spires. They stretch for hundreds of feet into the sky, calcified and sharp, the horns of the world. At the top, rest smoldering funeral pyres.

Beth drains the rest of her water skin into her mouth. She squeezes the last bit for Bindo who laps at it, spilling most on the ground. Opening the leather satchel along the flank of her companion, Beth pauses a moment. Inside rests her egg, a large two-foot-wide green ball, coated with a crackling patina of flakes. Beth is amazed to see it intact as she places her empty water skin between it and a pair of workman’s gloves.

“I think we can make it by sundown,” she says, her voice hopeful.

Bindo isn’t the brightest, but he can pick up on tension. Beth doesn’t want to make him more nervous than he is. He slow-blinks with those giant brown eyes then plods along beside her.

Her biggest concern isn’t the desert. If things get too bad she could always crack open a plant and suck some moisture out of it. What Beth is worried most about are poachers. Just the thought alone makes her glance back to the satchel nervously.

The purple sky is dusted with diamond stars. She finds herself on auto-pilot, just walking with her ox-sized beast, her face to the universe. A breeze musses her hair and Beth wonders for a brief moment if she will ever find a place to rest for good. Home is just a word–

Bindo stops without warning, growls. A cold spike runs through her chest. She feels in her pocket for the gun there, fully aware that she has a scant three bullets remaining.

“It’s okay babe,” she says to him.

But Bindo isn’t having any of it. He begins to snort. Hooves paw the ground and Beth feels the vibration in her legs. He snorts again and this time she hears it—stalkers.

They move in from the scrub bushes, lanky canines in the dusk light. They move on four paws, but Beth knows all too well that they don’t have to. This is just a scouting posture. They are sniffing her and Bindo out, moving low to the ground. When they attack, leaping with claws out, they stand upright, their tiny chest hooks exposed. But for now, they are keeping their distance. Good.

The village spires suddenly seen painfully far away and Beth finds herself wishing that these were poachers. Poachers can be fooled or reasoned with. Stalkers kill for fun.

A rustling of bushes and the first one leaps from the ground, its torso splitting wide to reveal the killing mouth there, its dark black eyes rolled back into its head in a parody of ecstasy.

Bindo rears up and catches it in the side with a sharp hoof. It squeals and tumbles into the dust as Beth pulls the gun from her pocket. She sees two more moving in from the bushes. She fires. The bullet only nicks the closest one, passing through the skin and leaving a puff of dust in the ground. It skips to the side and then flies at her. She can actually see the red gullet between those long vertical jaws. She fires again. Black liquid sprays out the stalker’s back. It pinwheels in the air before flopping to the ground.

A blur to her left. Bindo spins and almost knocks her to the ground with his massive clumsy flank. She jumps but the distraction keeps her from seeing what he is reacting to. Another stalker is already in the air. It lands on Bindo, latching onto his shoulder like a giant leech. He bellows. Saliva flings from his mouth in strands as he tries to shake off the attacker.

Beth can’t get to it. The stalker is on the other side of her massive friend. Movement again and something rushes her—the stalker Bindo had just kicked. It’s limping but alive and very angry. Without thinking, Beth fires. A cloud of black ichor sprays her and Bindo’s flank.

The last stalker is still attached to the beast, hooked in, unable to flee. Stalkers play to win every time. Bindo screams again and a large liquid eye turns to her pleadingly.

No bullets. She leaps onto Bindo and takes the gun barrel in her hand. The metal burns and Beth smells something like meat cooking. Should have worn the gloves.

She screams as she hammers the top of the stalker, its body flat as it wriggles to tear off a chunk of meat. Each blow sounds like she is smashing apples. The stalker’s screams are muted. Its rolled-back eyes blink and twitch. Beth continues to strike the creature even though her palm blisters and Bindo bucks.

You aren’t helping, she thinks.

At last she strikes an eye. The stalker shrieks with a sound that makes her teeth hurt. It falls away and begins to limp across the ground. But Bindo turns. Sharp hooves dance along the creature, pummeling it into the dirt until it isn’t much more than hamburger.

As she calms the beast, Beth feels wetness on her leg. She turns, pulls the satchel open. A small cry escapes her throat. The egg lies in two pieces, a fractured, leaking globe.

They limp to town. She has a hard time seeing the spires anymore, though she knows they are there through her tears.

(c) 2012 Martin Kee (marlanesque)


I wrote this for the 40th cycle of Flash Fiction Friday this week. The picture below is our prompt. It weighs in at just under 1000 words.


“Can you spare any change?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Sorry.”

It wasn’t a lie, really. I don’t carry cash. Everything I buy is with a debit card these days. He nodded as if he understood and continued to stare down the car.

“That’s fine,” he said. “Never hurts to ask.”

He smiled and I counted all of five teeth. He scratched his chest a little under the faded NAVY T-shirt that seemed too big for him.

“I’m going home today,” he said.

“Are you…”

He nodded. “It’s been a long time.”

“That’s nice.”

He looked at my iPhone. “They’re getting smaller every year,” he said.

“They are.” I unconsciously withdrew the cell phone into my pocket. He only smiled.

“In about five years, you’ll be ditching that for optical inserts and a subcutaneous power matrix.”

I blinked. “Pardon?”

“That phone,” he said. “In about three years they’ll admit it’s been giving people cancer. Everyone will switch to graphene matrices that don’t fry your brain.”

Ten stops left on the subway and here I was, trapped with a loon. I thought about getting up and moving, but all the seats were taken except for the ones directly next to him. People swayed standing in the aisles. Nobody was listening to us.

“Name’s Leopold,” he said, holding out a hand. “Friends call me Leo.”

I looked at it for a minute and then shook. He had a firm grip.

“Going home eh?” I said. “Where’s home?”

“Brooklyn,” he said. “Do you have the time?”

“It’s 4 O’clock,” I said.

He thought for a moment, then said. “What day?”


“The date.”

“The fifth of August.”

He frowned. “I’m going to do you a favor…”


“Phil, I normally don’t do this, but I would highly advise that you get off the train along with me.”

“Why’s that?”

“You wouldn’t believe me. You’ll just have to trust. You won’t want to be on this subway in fifteen minutes or so.”

“Try me.”

He leaned across the aisle. “I was part of an elite military team when I was younger.”


“No,” he said. “But you could say we were the successors.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Phil, I have no doubt you will think me crazy for telling you this, but you seem like a nice guy. I am from the year 2073.”

And there we have it, I thought. I leaned back in my seat, staring at him. Eight stops left.

“Told you you wouldn’t believe me,” he said.

I shrugged. “Do you blame me?”

“Not really,” he said, looking out the window a moment.

“So, time travel,” I said.

A wry grin crossed his face. “Don’t believe me but wanna hear the story anyway, I see.”

“We’ve got time.”

“I fought in World War Two,” he said. “They sent us back as monitoring police. we make sure that no one tampers with the primary timeline, you see.”

“I don’t,” I said.

“Ok, look,” said Leo. “If you could go back in time and kill any person, who would you kill?” He raised an eyebrow.

I said nothing.

“Hitler,” said Leo. “And don’t pretend like you were going to say anything else. Everyone and their uncle wants to kill Hitler. He is the great white buffalo of time travelers. Everyone thinks that if you kill Hitler, you’ll fix everything. You kill him at fifteen and the war would never happen. The Jews would be spared, the Japanese never would have invaded. The Italians would have come to their senses. Millions of lives saved, you see? But it causes unforeseen problems, power vacuums, political instability, things you could never predict.”

He coughed and continued.

“I was his secondary school teacher. My job was to save him from any idiot who might go back and try to assassinate him. My relief operative arrived late. When I went to the rendezvous portal, it was gone. I hitchhiked out to France, took a ship to New York and have been waiting ever since. The fact that we are having this discussion is proof that my associates are still doing their job.”

“Why live on the streets then?”

“Can’t leave a footprint. Anything I do might upset the continuum. But seeing as there is a portal opening in a couple hours in Brooklyn, I don’t mind telling you.”

“And why should I believe you?” I said.

He leaned across the aisle and pulled the sleeve back from his upper arm revealing a dark tattoo. As I watched the image it moved, swirling into complex graphs and patterns.

“No signal. It malfunctions in the split time-space reality,” he said. “Otherwise I could give a better demonstration.”

“That’s amazing,” I said, watching the surface of his skin move. “And you say you come from the future?”

He nodded.

“And you were there to protect… who again?”

He blinked. “Hitler.”


“Adolf Hitler.”

‘Never heard of him.”

We stared at each other as the color drained from his face.

“I sure hope you are fucking with me, son.”

“Why would I do that?”

“You’ve never heard of Adolf Hitler…”

“Should I?”

His breathing shallow, Leo grabbed his chest. His red IMPERIAL SYMPHONY T-Shirt bunched between his fingers as he rolled from his seat, his face pale. The doors opened and I stepped around the man as he lay still on the floor.

I would have stayed, but I was late for a meeting with NationCorp about another merger. I walked out the train, across the ubiquitous red banners, crosses and golden eagles (all praise be to the Leader), wondering if there was a grain of truth to his warning. Maybe another one of those Free Democratic Party terrorists would strike again. It wouldn’t take a time traveler to figure that out with attacks every week. At least his story was entertaining. Too bad about the heart attack.

I still wish I had had time to get a better look at that tattoo, though.

© 2011 Marlan Smith

Christmas in July

Now that I have finished a draft on the novel, I decided to stretch my brain a little and contribute to another of Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenges at Terrible Minds.  The picture below was to be used as our prompt.


Christmas in July

It had to have been the mask, Murielle was fairly certain at this point. The way it snapped over her eyes, like a peacock had sat on her face, feathers everywhere, tickling her nose and lip. She hated it.

“Just wear it until we’re inside, then you can take it off. If you wanted the fencing mask you should have said something,” said Jane. “It isn’t like I didn’t give you a choice.”

“I know,” said Murielle. “It’s just… Does it have to be so itchy?”

“Once we’re inside you’ll never even notice.”

Murielle sighed as her sister led her by the hand, through the curtain in the back of the store.

THE TIME TUNNEL was a run-of-the-mill costume warehouse, full of clown suits and rubber masks, some stupid hipster hangout Jane had been going on and on about. Murielle had come here simply to humor her.

It was oppressively dark in back. Murielle froze for a second. She could feel Jane turn.

“You ok?”

“No,” said Murielle. “How much further?”

“Just a while longer,” said Jane. “I’m telling you, there’s nothing like this.”

“And you do this for fun?”

Jane only laughed, a high willowy laugh that normally would have made Murielle feel right at home; this time it set her teeth on edge. It explained why she hadn’t heard from Jane in five years. Amazing she hadn’t been abducted. Idiot.

“Almost there,” said Jane.

“And what then?”

“Then, you just relax. And watch.”

“Are there chairs?”

“We’ll stand,” she felt Jane tugging urgently on her hand. “Once the lights come on we won’t have a choice.”

Old mannequins popped out of the shadows, white as ghosts, startling her as they rushed past. Feather boas brushed her face and fluttered like escaped birds. No, Murielle did not care for this at all.

Of course Jane was always the black sheep, the one coloring outside the lines. When Murielle went to college, Jane ran away from home and lived for a week on a train. When Murielle got her job at the law firm, Jane was finger-painting in a studio “Like a goddamn five-year-old,” Murielle had complained to their parents once.

“You and your sister are two sides of the same coin,” her mother had said. “You just can’t see it yet.”

And she still didn’t. All this running and tripping. It was a good way to twist an ankle or scrape a knee. She bumped into something small and soft and realized it was Jane.

“We’re here,” she said.

“Now what?”

“Pick a pose,” said Jane.

“A pose?”


“I don’t want to pose. I want to sit down and have a goddamn drink.”

“Look,” said Jane. “Remember that time we went on the Gee-Force?”

“At the fair?”


“Yeah, I hated it.”

Her sister only laughed. “Well it’s a lot like that.”

“Great,” said Murielle, panic rising in her voice. “Don’t they provide seat-belts? A safety bar. This place is a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

“Shh,” said Jane. “It’s starting.”

“What is–”

A light, much brighter than she expected, came on and lit the room like a sun. Murielle felt her body stiffen, her heart sank. Her feet seemed to stick to the floor. She tried to open her mouth to scream, run, anything, but nothing worked anymore.

I’m dying, she thought. My brat sister has gotten us killed!

But after the sensation faded–or maybe she had just gotten used to it–Murielle noticed other people, a dozen or so, all frozen, mannequins.

Oh God, she thought. Is that me? Am I stuck in that awful 80’s movie? I am going to fucking kill my sister when this is over.

In front of her was a huge window looking out onto the corner of 5th and Market. People walked along the sidewalk, parents holding their children’s gloved hands as the first flakes of snow fell.

Snow, she thought. In July?

A man sat there on the corner, a cup in one hand and a sign: ANY HELP GOD BLESS. People ignored him as they walked past, the snow piling on his shoulders. He stayed there, cup held out, not a dime falling into it.

An hour went by, then another. Murielle felt no discomfort despite the prison her body had become. It forced her to notice little details in the man’s beard, his tattered clothes, the way he nodded and said “Merry Christmas” behind the muting glass.

More hours passed and the man sat, collecting nothing, shivering in the cold. Wasn’t anyone going to help him? Jesus. A fucking quarter. Get that man a cup of coffee. Something.

And still he waited. He waited until the sun came up and the snow had turned to dense slush on his back. They watched as his shivering ended and he turned to a frozen statue on the pavement.

Then the curtain came down, the lights went off and Jane led her through the darkness again. “What did you think?”

“Isn’t someone going to help him?” she said as they stumbled back to the entrance. “Isn’t someone going to call an ambulance?”

“Using what?”

“A cellphone, for fuck’s sake!”

“Did you see anyone on a cell phone, Sis?”

Murielle froze momentarily in her frustration and confusion. They stepped out into the warehouse where other people removed their costumes in silence. She blinked away tears at her sister.

“You sure didn’t pay very close attention, did you?” said Jane.

“What?” said Murielle. “What did I miss?”

“You didn’t see the newspaper?”

“What newspaper?”

“Or look at the cars?”


Then Murielle remembered what she didn’t see. Not a single Prius, or Civic, just huge, old metal things with massive chrome bumpers and ornaments. The coats the children wore, like something from an old 1960’s cop show. The concept of cellphones suddenly seemed ludicrous.

She looked at Jane, who smiled back at her from under the letters of the store sign.

“Do you see it now?”

(c) 2011 Marlan Smith

Breakfast In The City Of Fog And Souls

Taking a break today from novel revision to do another Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge. This week’s challenge is brought to you by the letter ‘M’ and is a vignette from The Heavy Dark universe. Shouldn’t be too spoilery if you haven’t read the book, although the characters don’t make appearances until the second part.

Breakfast In The City Of Fog and Souls

“I call him Munnin,” Agatha said looking out the window. “The raven. Do you know your Norse mythology, traveler?”

“I was a young boy,” I said, sipping from the cup of tea she had poured. “Most mythology escapes me nowadays.“

We sat at a small, wobbly table, with a folded playing card under one foot to keep it level. The glass was fogged slightly from the steam off the tea and from her breath. Agatha was a small lady, polite to the very end. Her gray hair rested atop her head in a bun, held by a tarnished clip.

As far as lodging went, her house was suitable–certainly more than I expected to find in a city such as Rhinewall, with its Gothic spires and cold gray brick. I had hoped to avoid the place altogether, but the sun was setting and the fog had become so thick, I could hardly see my hand in front of my face. When the massive sea wall rose up out of nowhere, I had nearly banged into it, fishing rod, journeyman’s pack and all.

“I call him Munnin because that was the raven of memory,” she said after a long pause, the crashing of the surf distant and muted through the fog and glass.

The raven in question was a massive brute, the size of a hawk. If I had half a mind to bring my gun, and had seen it in the woods, it would have made a fine meal. Although I’d found crow to be a bit gamy in the past. It sat perched on a cobble wall, waiting for something.

“Every day,” said Agatha. “Every day he sits there–”

A wheezing sound from the other room interrupted her, followed by a coughing fit. Agatha excused herself and stepped away and into the darkened hall. I continued to watch the huge black bird as it sat there.

Strange really, a crow that large in a populated area. Not half a block away, a man sat, feeding pigeons. Plenty of scratch for such a big bird. He could have scared off any of them and taken the whole feast for himself. But instead he continued to sit there, waiting.

Agatha scurried back into the nook and sat. she gave me a warm, apologetic smile, wrinkles creasing around her gray eyes. She sipped her tea and placed the cup down with the grace of an appraiser.

“Where were we?”

“Everyday, you said.”

“Oh, yes,” she continued. “He waits there all day long and then–oh look.”

I leaned over to see beyond the window frame. A girl, no more than ten or eleven came into view. A street urchin, wearing a tattered coat and hat. She held out a bandaged hand to the bird.

When its wings unfolded I thought for a fleeting moment that it would simply snatch her up, carry her off to feed whatever monstrous brood it had in its nest. Instead, it hopped down to the ground–its head reached the girl’s thigh–and stretched its neck out for her to pet.

“Isn’t that something?” said Agatha. “He only lets her do that. Poor wretched thing.”

“She’s orphaned?”

“Oh, she had a father,” said Agatha, but fell silent.


“No…” she said and trailed off. “Not exactly.”

I leaned back in my chair. “Not dead, then alive? Missing?”

“Oh, you could say he was missing.”

“I imagine fishermen get lost all the time in these waters.”

She gave me a reproachful look, her old eyes darting between me and the dark hallway. She sipped her tea and then seemed to consider me.

“Rhinewall used to be a lovely city, Mister…”

“Sam, please.”

She nodded. “Sam, did you know we used to have a tulip festival in the spring?”

“It doesn’t seem the suitable climate.”

“Oh, I know. Men used to grow them in greenhouses, slaved over them for the festival. The children would tie the ribbon on a pole. There was music…” She trailed off for a moment. “You don’t hear music anymore… same goes for the festivals.”

“Why’s that?”

Her features hardened as her eyes met mine. I saw for an instant a woman much younger, tougher, someone who had lost more than she wished to discuss.

“Because you need a soul to play music, to really play it… and to listen to it.” She raised a gnarled hand to the glass and drew an upside-down U on the foggy glass. A hill, perhaps. “There,” she said. “Farther than you can see in this fog. There are men in there who have stolen this city’s memory, its soul.”

Not sure how to answer, I sipped my tea, hoping she would elaborate. Normally, I would take bits of metaphor such as this as nothing but fable. Something in her voice told me there was more. Instead, her eyes fell to look at the street below.

“Every day,”she said again. “Every day that girl comes and talks to that raven.”


She nodded. “Although I’m sure that isn’t his real name. She talks to it and it probably talks back. Then she goes off to the scrapyard and I don’t see her again.”

“Until the next time.”

She nodded.

A sudden memory struck me and I sat upright. “Oh, Munnin,” I said. “He was the raven who spoke to Odin.”

She fixed her eyes on me and I realized that there was something I had missed before. Agatha had no fondness for the bird.

“Odin,” she spat. “That bird talks to Hel herself.”

“The girl?”

“No!” she nearly yelled, her eyes ablaze. I scooted back in my chair, startled by the sudden outrage in her voice  “Hel, the goddess of the dead and damned. That raven is a harbinger, Sam, a harbinger of terrible things.”

With shaking hands I reached for my tea and sipped, trying my hardest to show no fear. Eventually, Agatha calmed and sipped her own as if nothing had happened.

“I apologize,” she said. “Ever since my Howard went away I’ve never been quite the same.”

I looked into the darkened hallway, and then back at her. The expression on my face was all the question I needed to ask.

“Yes,” she said.

“Isn’t Howard…”

“Oh, that’s his body alright,” she said. “It wakes up and eats and coughs, but that isn’t my Howard.”

She stood and took me by the arm, walking in small shuffled steps. We went into the darkness and she opened the door. The man lay on a bed, molded to his back. He stared at the ceiling and beyond. He made no notice of our entrance.

“Howard,” I said.

She shrugged. “If you can call him that.”

The man’s chest rose and fell. His skin was normal and healthy, his breathing regular.

“What’s wrong with him?”

She closed the door again and led me to my room. At the door she rose up on her toes, placed her hands on my cheeks, cradling my face and kissed me. It wasn’t the kind of kiss a grandmother would give, nor was it some vulgar young woman’s kiss. It was more like a blessing.

“You are good to keep moving come the morning,” she said. “I would hate to see them come for you.”

“Why don’t you come with me,” I began to say, but Agatha pressed a finger to my lips.

“You are sweet, but I am old. And…” She looked toward Howard’s room. “I think that soon Howard will be coming back. I can feel it. But this city… it is not for the living anymore.”

When I returned to the window, both the raven and the girl were gone. I finished my tea, cleaned the cup and placed it on the rack. From the hallway I could hear Agatha’s voice, low and calming, telling her secrets to a body that would never remember or understand the words.

The next morning I let myself out, not wishing to wake my hosts. I turned from the door and froze. The girl, her face shaded under a the worn cap, stood in the street, the raven on her shoulder, both of them looking at me. The girl, I realized, had only one good eye, the other was a milky white.

Neither of them followed me as I left the building, nor did they say anything as I walked, somewhat hurriedly down the street and out past the city walls. Just as they faded from my sight, I thought I heard the girl say, “His name is not Munnin.”

Surprised at the closeness of her voice, I spun on my heel, too fast, and spilled the contents of my bag. As I scrambled to refill my bag, I looked for the source of the voice, but there was nothing, only fog.

In Hindsight, At Least The Test Was Successful

So Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge this week was all about profanity.  The story had to be about, contain, or just generally roll around in profanity like a pig in shit.

See? I’ve started already.


In Hindsight At Least The Test Was Successful

Statistically speaking, the most commonly uttered phrase before someone’s death is “Oh shit!” This can be heard throughout history on recordings of bus crashes, train wrecks and most notably, airline black boxes.

It should come as no surprise then, that a variation of expletives would be recorded by John Dingle PhD, AaF, SCr, Chief of Nanoreproductive Robotic Artificial Intelligence at AMES research in Mountain View, California on a foggy Monday morning.

The day had started off all wrong to begin with: spilled coffee, broken fountain pen resulting in a blue ink stain, glasses dropped and broken then repaired with tape. All in all, it was one of those Mondays that told John Dingle he should have stayed in bed. Like most people, John Dingle was never very good at listening to that voice in his head.

“Cats,” he said. “There’s a cat. I hate cats.”

Pamela scurried to try and chase the stray feline into a corner where it might allow her to pick it up. In the meantime, John used an air hose to try and clean any stray hairs off the massive construct in the far corner of the room.

“It’s just a cat,” said Pam. “It isn’t the end of the world.”

“Pam,” he said, trying to retain some composure. “You know I’m allergic. You know that cats are filthy and stray cats are disgusting even by cat standards. For all we know, it could have tracked in a million particles. We’ll have to close the lab for a week.”

“You’re being dramatic.”

The cat, now even more frightened than before, disappeared under a cabinet. Yellow eyes peered from beneath the metal container.

“He’s not coming out,” said Pam.

“Get a broom or something.” Jesus Christ, thought John. This is all I fucking need today. One goddamn thing after another.

John wasn’t normally one to swear, especially in the office and certainly not in front of Pam, who he had been trying to impress ever since she started six months prior. Needless to say, it wasn’t going well. This cat was just frosting. Fat fucking cat frosting. Asshole.

The construct was a six foot mobile armature, composed of a bicameral head, speech recognition receptors, a wiry torso, capable of free movement throughout the lab and a single knobby arm. The arm ended in an eerily human looking hand, capable of lightning fast movements with enough sensitivity and dexterity to cradle an egg.

Pam came back with the broom and began fishing under the cabinet with it, trying to see if she could convince the feral cat to seek refuge elsewhere, preferably in one of the other labs.

“I think he’s scared,” she said.

“Of course he is,” said John. I’d be scared too if someone was prodding my ass with a goddamn broomstick.

“He’s not moving.”

In response, the cat hissed, but remained wedged beneath the cabinet. John glanced over his shoulder at Pam, on all fours, her most attractive angle from across the room. Even under the lab coat, the curves of her figure were hard to miss. Who cared if she was fifteen years younger than him. John considered himself quite a catch for a man in his fifties.

He put the air hose down and nearly knocked over his coffee again. A long hiss of “Fffffffuuuu” almost escaped his lips. Pam gave him a reproachful look and he finished with “Fudge.”

“Potty mouth,” she said with a flirting glint in her eye.

John flushed and turned back to the construct. “I’m going to test the speech receptors again,” he said and touched the button just below the twin cameras. They glowed and came to life. The construct gave him an attentive look, shutter-fly irises constricting. The arm moved and then shuddered to a halt.

Motherfucker, thought John. Pam forgot to tighten the actuators again. Son of a bitch.

“Pam did you tighten the actuators before we left on Friday?”

She looked back at him, still on her hands and knees, a pose that he found less attractive now that she was costing them time. “I thought I did. Is it not working properly?”

“No,” he said, grabbing the socket attachment and slamming it onto the air hose. “It’s not working properly at all. In fact, I remember you were the first one out of the building Friday.”

She was scowling at him now, the broom motionless. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying,” he jammed the socket wrench onto the actuator for emphasis. “That you may have fucked us, Pam. You may have fucked my whole day.”

The shock on her face was worth it. Her mouth made a charming pouty “O”.

“And now we have a voice recognition test today and we are behind four fucking hours.”

“John,” she said. “The construct is on–”

“I don’t fucking care if it’s on,” said John, placing the pneumatic tool on the counter. “The construct can go fuck itself. In fact the construct can go fuck me and you and this entire goddamn lab with a goddamn fat fucking air hose chainsaw for all I fucking care!”

As the cat sprang from the cabinet, Pam screamed, which seemed odd to John. It wasn’t until he turned to see the construct swing the tool at his crotch that he realized what had happened.

“Oh, fuck me,” he uttered as the pneumatic wrench skewered him through the pelvis, pumping a ragged line up to his sternum.

In a way, John Dingle, PhD, AaF, SCr, was rather proud of his creation in those last few moments of consciousness. The speech recognition test was successful. The construct had understood exactly what he had said, executing it to precise detail, (even if its interpretation was somewhat sketchy). As the machine left him and began to move through the lab amidst a chorus of screams, John lay in a scarlet pool of blood, a bemused smile on his face.

© 2011 Marlan Smith